Politicians Lament Loss of Flights to LAX


In a move that angered some members of California's congressional delegation, the Department of Transportation on Friday said it would end the last two nonstop flights between D.C.'s Ronald Reagan National Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

By this fall, it will be possible to fly nonstop twice a day from the capital's most centrally located airport to Las Vegas and Phoenix, and once daily to Denver. But Los Angeles is off the list, replaced by Seattle.

"I'm devastated. I'm in deep denial," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Redondo Beach), whose district includes LAX. "I'm taking that flight on Monday morning and I'm wearing black."

The two popular nonstop TWA flights, which carried 45,000 passengers in their first 10 months of operation, were up for grabs because the airline has been bought by American Airlines, a merger scheduled for completion later in the year. The slots were among 12 that were awarded last year for flights longer than 1,250 miles arriving or departing from Reagan National.

Transportation officials decided Alaska Airlines, which plans to serve Seattle, was the most deserving of the airlines asking to take over the flight slots.

"Awarding these slot exemptions to Alaska Airlines will bring a new entrant to Reagan National as well as connect Washington with the Pacific Northwest and Alaska," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.

Transportation officials say the relatively small airport, where incoming passengers are treated to sweeping views of the monuments, can handle far fewer flights than either Dulles International or Baltimore-Washington International, each located about an hour's drive from downtown Washington.

Dulles has more than a dozen daily nonstop flights between Los Angeles, about three times as many as BWI.

But for the steady stream of celebrities, entertainment lobbyists, sightseers and politicians making the commute from Tinseltown, the service was popular. And stars coming to Washington to lobby on behalf of their pet causes--at least those without the private jets--could be spotted waiting in the airport terminal.

"First energy and now this," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who said she will introduce legislation next week to keep the flights in service. "It appears that once again the president is turning his back on the people of California. And even worse, it seems that this unfair treatment is becoming a habit."

TWA officials said an end date for the flights has not yet been determined, although Alaska Airlines is scheduled to start its nonstop service to Seattle by the end of October.

Harman described the flight, which put her just minutes away from the House floor, as a major convenience for Southern California legislators trying to make the long haul back for votes on Monday night.

But Harman said her disappointment in transportation officials' decision went beyond her own comfort.

"I just saw the face of America on that airplane," she said. "I've made that trip dozens of times and it struck me that it wasn't just a business commuter flight, it was an interesting flight, and I wonder if it attracted people to Washington who would be reluctant to fly into Dulles."

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