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JetBlue to begin direct flights to L.A. in June

For thousands of West Coast-bound travelers each year, the Monday announcement of JetBlue’s plans for the first-ever nonstop flights from Buffalo to Los Angeles could rank as some of the best flying news in a long time.

But the news gets even better for those who book their flights Tuesday. They can fly all the way to Los Angeles International Airport from Buffalo Niagara International Airport for $99 when the airline launches the new service June 16.

“Because people love low fares, we’ll launch with a JetBlue fare of $99 each way,” said JetBlue President Robin Hayes during a Monday news conference at the airport.

And Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a key figure in bringing JetBlue to Buffalo 16 years ago who has lobbied for years for direct West Coast service, is all for the airline and the low fares, too.

“Just go to the JetBlue website and sign up,” he chimed in, as part of a mutual praise session that everyone involved agreed will serve as a major boost for Western New York firms with business in California.

“People hate to stop over,” Schumer said. “It’s something we’ve wanted since 2013.”

The senator and airline executive both praised the Buffalo market as continuing to outperform expectations. Schumer said JetBlue started in 2000 with three daily round-trips between Buffalo and JFK International Airport in New York, and now features nine.

“We’ll start with one flight per day,” Schumer said of the new service. “I’m confident that in a short amount of time it will go up. It’s just inevitable by the market, by Western New York’s growing economy, and the demand of Canadians. I guarantee it.”

While JetBlue has expanded flights to other cities, too, its executives now think Buffalo hosts such a substantial influx of Southern Ontario travelers that direct flights to Los Angeles are more than justified. Even with a dropoff of Canadian travelers in recent months stemming from the weak Canadian dollar, airport officials still peg Southern Ontario passengers as about 40 percent of Buffalo’s customers.

“Don’t do it out of Toronto,” Schumer urged Canadians. “Get in your car, make the short drive, and go from here.”

Airport officials also note high passenger facility charges at Pearson International Airport in Toronto as well as long wait times and other hassles. They estimate Buffalo’s costs at $100 cheaper per flight. They also said more and more Canadians are finding it easier at Buffalo International, as evidenced by seven hotels close to the airport today compared to one when JetBlue first arrived in 2000.

“We believe there will be a very significant demand from Western New York and Canada,” Hayes said. “The Canadian customer is tired of paying very high fares and waiting a long time at Pearson.”

William R. Vanecek, director of aviation for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said the new service marks an extension of the airport’s current furthest westward reach to Las Vegas and Phoenix by Southwest Airlines, though service to Denver, also by Southwest, is expected to begin in June. The new service will act as a “barometer,” he said, to determine if more long distance flights will be offered.

“If L.A. performs well, maybe it will mean another California market or a southwest Texas market,” he said. “It just helps the argument.”

Schumer noted that until the flights to LAX begin in June, Los Angeles is the largest market and most frequent destination for travelers from Buffalo that does not already have a direct flight. Conversely, he said Buffalo is the second-largest eastern market without a direct flight from Los Angeles.

Hayes added that Schumer’s advocacy has paid off for upstate travelers and the airline, too, as it also has established operations at Rochester, Syracuse and Albany. They have become key elements in JetBlue’s rise to the fifth-biggest airline in the United States, Hayes said.

The new service is also seen as a boon for local businesses needing better access to California, as well as for new firms looking to locate here that are dependent on direct flights. Schumer pointed to the California headquarters of the new Solar City plant under construction in South Buffalo, and envisioned its executives taking advantage of the new service.

“It’s going to help us attract more business to locate here in Buffalo,” Schumer said.

And Bills fans should take note: the Bills will be playing in L.A. next season against the Rams.

Hayes said his airline remains bullish on service in upstate New York, noting that eight of its 95 airports are now located here.

“None of these are more special than Buffalo,” he said, “because Buffalo Niagara is where it all began.”

Here are the longest nonstop destinations from Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Los Angeles LAX and Denver will join the list in June:

1. Las Vegas (Southwest), 1,987 miles

2. Phoenix (Southwest) 1,911 miles

3. Ft Lauderdale (Southwest, JetBlue), 1,165 miles

4. Fort Myers (Southwest), 1,144 miles