For Solana Beach resident, Sheila Olinger, the convenience of flying out of an airport that is smaller, closer to home and has $5 all-day parking made taking the first-ever California Pacific Airlines flight Nov. 2 from Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport a no-brainer.
Founder: Ted Vallas
Number of employees: Nearly 100
Company description: A privately owned commercial service domestic airline that flies to San Jose, Las Vegas, Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona, and uses a fleet of four 50-seat regional jets made by Embraer.
“I have a 20-month-old,” said Olinger, a 36-year-old mother who was traveling to San Jose to take the California Certified Paralegal examination. Her plan was to fly out that morning and return the same day — just in time to kiss her son good night — without having to worry about traffic or exhausting security checks, expensive parking and the potential of delayed flights while being 30-45 minutes away from home.
“This was much closer to home (than San Diego International Airport),” said the Canadian native. “It was also a quick process.”
Convenience was part of California Pacific’s strategy when founder Ted Vallas took on the task of launching a new airline. The businessman and Encinitas resident worked for a decade to get the company off the ground, after facing numerous delays at both the federal and local government levels.
Today marks “the culmination of a multi-year effort that will bring significant convenience in air travel between San Diego’s North County and the top western-region destinations our community wants to fly to nonstop,” Vallas said via a news release, referring to the airlines’ debut. “Our initial set of cities will address the needs of both business and leisure travelers from nearby McClellan-Palomar Airport. Passengers can spend less time fretting the drive to and from the airport, and spend more time enjoying their destination.”
Vallas worked in North County real estate development and ran a small airline out of McClellan-Palomar Airport in the 1980s.
Launching a privately-held commercial service airline is uncommon; Cal Jet Elite Air was founded in 2015 and based out of Palomar, but it abruptly ended its service in April. While California Pacific Airlines isn’t the first privately owned commercial service domestic airline to launch in the last few decades, it is currently the only privately held commercial service airline out of Carlsbad, says Ryan DiVita, director of sales and marketing for the company.
DiVita says the company’s marketing plan, which will use both traditional and modern approaches, will target both business and leisure travelers evenly. He also adds the airline is running targeted campaigns that will hone in on various age groups, and that the company will be launching its very own reservations system, possibly in the next couple of months.
The company might be coming on the scene at a crucial time for business and leisure travel, as both sectors continue to steadily grow. According to data from the San Diego Tourism Authority, the number of domestic business-related trips in the United States is estimated to be 471.5 million in 2018, up from 462 million in 2017. That number is projected to go up to nearly 500 million by 2022. The number of domestic leisure trips in the United States in 2017 was 1.79 billion, with the number projected to be 1.82 billion in 2018. That number is anticipated to increase to 1.94 billion in 2022.
The first California Pacific flight left just after 7 a.m. and landed about an hour later at San Jose International Airport. The 50-seat plane, which had approximately 20 people onboard, was a smooth ride. Cabin service was provided by two flight attendants, one of whom passed out complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. At the end of the flight, Theodore Vallas, nephew of the company founder, jumped on the microphone to thank all those onboard.
“On behalf of the Vallas family, we like to thank you all for taking the inaugural flight by California Pacific Airlines, and we hope you all fly with us again soon,” he said, as two school-aged boys helped him pass out souvenir hats with the words “Let’s Fly” stitched to the front to each passenger.
California Pacific plans service from Carlsbad to San Jose, Las Vegas, Reno-Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona, and will use a fleet of four 50-seat regional jets made by Embraer. The initial flight schedule to San Jose will include two round trips each weekday with a single round trip each Saturday and Sunday. The schedule to Reno-Lake Tahoe will consist of a single round-trip each Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The Las Vegas schedule, effective Nov. 15, will have a single round trip Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
San Diego State University marketing professor Michael Belch says the timing of the airline launch couldn’t be more appropriate as more people move to North County.
“Like blue moons, airline startups are a rarity in San Diego,” he said.
North County Convenience
The expediency and ease for local residents can definitely boost the airline’s popularity among business and leisure travelers, Belch says.
“If you want to go downtown to the airport these days from North County for a 5 a.m. flight, you better leave at 1 a.m., because traffic gets heavy starting at even 3 a.m. And then you have to deal with parking,” he said.
He does warn, though, that from personal experience, he believes smaller planes, much like the ones CPA is using, are held back the longest during bad flying weather, so, that is something to consider if the traveler needs to be at a certain place at a certain time.
“As the airline gets more of a positive reputation and builds on its service and history, it can certainly be a major shot in the arm,” he said.
Carlsbad resident David Thomas, who was on the inaugural flight with his wife, Valerie Thomas, said he’d been following the California Pacific Airlines story since he first heard of it about five years ago. When he caught wind that the first flight was taking off this week, he and his wife jumped onboard to be part of local history.
“We are just thrilled and delighted about this. It’s such an advantage for North County and has been needed for a long time,” he said, adding they will stay just for the weekend before heading back to San Diego.
Susie Schade from Carlsbad, who was headed to San Jose to see her 22-year-old daughter, said she had a Southwest Airlines flight purchased already, but requested a refund when she saw that this new airline was flying out of an airport closer to home.
“It was actually cheaper to fly through this airline,” Schade said, adding that she paid $99 each way for her flight. “So far, this is 100 percent better for me. Security check was quick and my husband was able to drop me off, which saves us money because it’s so close to home.
“My daughter is coming up for Thanksgiving and she says, now that I’ve told her how much more convenient this was, she’s probably exchanging her Southwest flight for California Pacific,” Schade said.
When Flight #4A0101 landed 67 minutes later, local media and onlookers recorded the event on various devices as the Vallas family members and California Pacific Airlines executives in attendance took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. About 15 passengers waited to board the return flight. By 8:52 a.m., the flight began boarding and took off shortly after.
As return passengers deplaned in Carlsbad, photographers snapped shots and some bystanders clapped. And, 97-year-old Ted Vallas, sat in a chair, legs crossed, waiting on the next flight to board.