Oct. 25—When Tim Banks and Carol King heard the news about a new nonstop flight from Bakersfield to Reno, they were ecstatic.
The two Bakersfield retirees try to travel to Reno four times a year to gamble, eat out and take in the culture of the "biggest little city in the world." So it should come as no surprise that the pair were the first travelers to check in to the first flight from Meadows Field to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Monday.
"We go via other scenarios and it's just so cumbersome," Banks said, noting the convenience of the nonstop flight. "This is right up my alley. It's perfect for somebody like myself."
Banks and King planned on spending four days in Reno, the first time they had returned to the city in more than a year.
"It's just so convenient because you can go Monday, Wednesday and Friday and come back on those days," King said.
That convenience is what Georgia-based ExpressJet Airlines hopes will bring thousands more people like Banks and King to Reno.
Meadows Field is one of seven cities across the West Coast that are gaining nonstop flights to Reno as part of ExpressJet's new aha! brand. The letters stand for air — hotel — adventure, and through its new connections, ExpressJet hopes to allow commuters to avoid busy hubs for short, spontaneous vacations.
"Some people, they want to get away to places that are a hard drive," said Michael Miskel, a specialist of airport operations for aha! "In a lot of our markets, we provide that expedited service to have that extended vacation time."
For Bakersfield residents, the new flight provides yet another option for travelers hoping to avoid long drives to Los Angeles or Fresno for trips. Previously, airlines only provided flights to Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco from Meadows Field. Now, travelers can reach Reno — and all the outbound flights from that city's international airport — from Bakersfield.
Airports Director Mark Witsoe likened the new route to the county's new brand, "grounded and boundless," which is meant to evoke the very real opportunities that exist in Kern County.
"This is an example of the opportunities that are coming to Bakersfield and Kern County," he said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Meadows Field on Monday. "We're looking forward to the local community really using this service to create adventures in the Reno area so the service grows daily."
Around half the seats on the 50-person plane were filled, which aha! considers decent for an inaugural flight. The airline hopes that as word spreads about the service, more Bakersfield and Kern County residents will fill up seats.
Representatives from the offices of local politicians attended the ribbon-cutting in an attempt to get the service off to a good start. The first customers were treated with cupcakes for their journey to Reno.
"This is an exciting new opportunity for Kern County residents to travel direct to the Reno-Tahoe area," state Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, said in a statement to The Californian. "We also welcome those in the Northern Nevada region to enjoy all that Kern County has to offer."
You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.