Jordan McCarter was among the passengers on the inaugural nonstop flight Thursday from Chattanooga to Washington Dulles International Airport — a present for her recent birthday.
While her ultimate destination was Quebec, Canada, she liked that Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport has gained another city for nonstop service and connecting flights.
Some 49 of the 50 available seats were filled on the United Airlines flight. It's a plane load that Lovell Field Chief Executive Officer Terry Hart said he'd gladly take for every lift-off of the new service.
United Airlines flights to Washington Dulles depart at 2:42 p.m. and 7:35 p.m., and the flights to Chattanooga depart at 8:15 a.m. and 5:10 p.m. daily.
"United has a robust hub [at Dulles]," Hart said, with lots of connections to the East Coast and Europe.
While United started the Dulles flights, it's stopping nonstops between Chattanooga and Newark, N.J., from which it serviced New York City. United's exit from Newark comes less than three months after Delta Air Lines in July began flying nonstops between Chattanooga and LaGuardia Airport in New York.
But United also added a third daily roundtrip between Chattanooga and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, Hart said.
Carl Schultz, director of airline business development at Washington Dulles, said the new nonstop to Chattanooga is key for business travelers trying to get to the District of Columbia as well as Northern Virginia.
"For them, it's a great chance for executives to use that flight," Schultz said.
He cited auto companies such as Volkswagen, which has its U.S. headquarters in nearby Herndon, Va., and its only American assembly plant in Chattanooga.
Also, Metrorail service into Washington is slated to start from the airport in 2020, Schultz said.
Mike Bradshaw of Chattanooga said he flies to the Washington area once a month and the new nonstop will save a lot of time by not having to get on a connecting flight.
"It's always the connection that gets you," he said.
Hart said that 70 percent of travelers at Chattanooga Airport fly for business. He said that American Airlines already flies from Chattanooga into Reagan National Airport, which is closer to the Capitol but has restrictions on the number of flights it can offer.
Hart said the new United service, which received no incentives, is an example of how airlines are looking at four record years of passenger traffic in Chattanooga. This year, he said, passenger boardings are expected to top 500,000 for the first time ever.
"It's another opportunity to continue the dialogue" with airlines, Hart said. He said Houston and Miami are two cities Chattanooga airport officials are interested in wooing nonstops.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.