Direct flights to the region’s most-demanded international destination have resumed at Richmond International Airport.
The airport celebrated the return of direct flights to Cancun, Mexico, with a ribbon-cutting Monday that preceded the first flight.
The plane, an Interjet A-320, was said to be filled to its 150-passenger capacity. It received a ceremonial, water-arch sendoff on its way to the runway.
The weekly direct flights are through Vacation Express, a part of Sunwing Travel Group Inc. that provided similar flights last year through Aeromexico. Barbara Vosmik, business development manager for Vacation Express, said the planes provided by Interjet are brand-new and include features such as separate bathrooms for men and women.
Jon Mathiasen, president and CEO of RIC, said the airport welcomes the return of the seasonal service, which he said is being offered six weeks longer this year. Monday’s flight was a month earlier than the start of service last year, said Troy Bell, director of marketing and air service development.
“It’s seasonal, but the season keeps getting longer,” Bell said.
Bell and Mathiasen said Cancun is the airport’s most-demanded international destination, with about 14,000 passengers traveling each year between the Mexican city and Richmond.
Bell said it is difficult to pinpoint a direct financial impact of the service, but he said it increases the airport’s inventory of seats by 300 per week –150 each way. That amounts to an increase of less than a half-percent, he said.
“The larger impact is having supportable nonstop service to the region’s most-demanded international destination,” Bell said in an email. “Vacation Express’s expansion of the season (several weeks longer with larger aircraft) is definitely a good sign that the route was popular last year.
“We understand from Vacation Express that it is off to a good start this year.”
Bell said he was told the first six weeks’ worth of flights have already been booked.
Should that trend continue the rest of the season, Bell said the route could create opportunities for additional destinations, such as Jamaica, Punta Cana and the Bahamas. He said the airport has seen 40 percent growth in travel to the Caribbean since 2009.