This post has been updated.
American Airlines will soon be welcoming Louisvillians to the jungle.
After a monthslong effort, the airline is sending Louisville an angel in the form of a nonstop flight to and from Louisville and Los Angeles, meaning Louisvillians will have the chance to visit Compton, Long Beach, Inglewood and see California girls, Hollywood freaks and under the bridge.
Daily nonstop flights will begin on April 2, with the first tickets going on sale on Nov. 5. American Airlines said in an email that it does not release prices ahead of time.
The Airbus A 319 plane can seat up to 160 passengers. Flights are scheduled to depart Louisville at 7:24 a.m. and arrive at Los Angeles International Airport at 9 a.m. Flights from Los Angeles would leave at 10:55 p.m. and arrive in Louisville at 6:02 a.m.
Most new flight announcements either are heralded by a simple news release or entitle a small news conference at the airport — an Allegiant announcement about Las Vegas including women dressed as showgirls — but Thursday’s announcement was bound to be big time with news conference alerts coming from the offices of Gov. Matt Bevin and Mayor Greg Fischer.
The California love was evident. Officials didn’t regulate their excitement and agreed on Thursday that it was a good day.
“This is a really, really big announcement,” Fischer said. “I am a business guy who just happens to be mayor. I’ve been asking for 35 years, so many people have been asking me ‘When are we going to have a direct flight to L.A.’ So, for this to happen is really the answer to so many different issues in our community, when we think about not just the business world or tourism world but also relevancy. … For a lot of folks, that’s a marker of whether or not you’re a player.”
He praised the airport authority and a collective of business people for working together to bring the route to Louisville.
Fischer, Bevin and other speakers urged people within driving distance of Louisville International Airport to purchase tickets for American Airlines’ direct flight to Los Angeles when heading to California, a key to keeping the route continuing into the future.
Bevin said that if his schedule permits, he’d like to be on the first flight to Los Angeles on April 2.
“I am just delighted. I am grateful to all the folks who’ve been involved,” said Bevin, referring to his own experience frequent flying.
Bevin said the new route will have “a huge, huge, huge impact” for his economic development team and businesses in Kentucky, as well as make it easier for people around the world to visit Louisville.
An employee with Atria Senior Living told Insider before the announcement that the flights will be a tremendous help, given that the senior housing company has roughly 40 facilities in California, a number of which are concentrated in Southern California.
Earlier this year, a nonprofit coalition of business leaders, investors and government officials called Louisville Regional Airlift Development started meeting with airlines and giving this pitch: Offer a nonstop flight from Louisville to Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco or Seattle because Louisville’s business community will support it and the city has more potential passengers than its numbers reveal due to an annual loss of more than 500,000 local passengers to other nearby airports.
LRAD also can promise something the Louisville Regional Airport Authority, which oversees the Louisville International Airport legally cannot — monetary incentives.
The nonprofit coalition has set up a minimum revenue guarantees fund, which can be used to cover any shortfall in expected revenues for a new flight, reducing an airline’s risk. If an airline expects to make $1 million a month from a nonstop flight but only earns $800,000 one month, then LRAD would pay the airline $200,000 out of the fund to cover the difference. Incentive agreements typically last a year or two, giving the new route time to take off.
The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development pledged $1.33 million in grant funding to the fund, and Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government allocated $200,000, as did Louisville Tourism. Other donors to the fund were not disclosed.
Citing confidentiality, LRAD declined to disclose the terms of its minimum revenue guarantee agreement with American Airlines, except to say that it spans two years. Luke Schmidt, a consultant to LRAD, said the group has raised several million dollars, enough to cover its agreement with American Airlines and have money leftover to pitch airlines on nonstop flights to its other target cities: Boston, San Francisco or Seattle.
“From an economic development standpoint, I think it’s a big, big deal,” said Ed Glasscock, chairman emeritus at Frost Brown Todd and vice chairman of LRAD. Glasscock said he regularly flies out west, and his law firm is often sending attorneys out that way.
He praised Louisville’s business leaders and Bevin’s administration for helping attract the new route. He also mentioned the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda (SCALA), of which he is a member; the organization has flown mostly under the radar since this spring after Insider Louisville first reported on its existence.
Back in August, Dann Mann, the new executive director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority, told Insider that he and LRAD leadership had met jointly with airlines about a possible Los Angeles route, but at the time, he wasn’t ready to announce anything.
LRAD has been leading a charge for more nonstop flights, particularly to major cities where business travelers often go. The group has argued that more nonstop flights to major cities will make Louisville a more attractive place to do business and help boost the economy, both from a business and tourism perspective.
Louisville International Airport often loses passengers to airports in Nashville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, which offer more nonstop flights, and LRAD and the airport authority hope to lessen that.