PORTLAND -- 135 passengers packed Alaskan Airlines Flight Number 764 Tuesday morning.
It was the first direct flight from Portland to Reagan National Airport. The airline was awarded the coveted non-stop flight earlier this year
The flight, which left Portland close to its 9:30 a.m. departure time, was special in more ways than one.
First, it is the only flight from PDX into the airport closest to our nation’s capital. And second, the Alaska Airlines plane was carrying six World War II veterans.
Those veterans were sponsored by Honor Flight Oregon, a nonprofit dedicated to taking Oregon’s Veterans to Washington, D.C. The goal is to show veterans the memorials built in their honor.
Walter Gibson is a retired Air Force serviceman and served in the Navy during World War II. He was on Tuesday’s inaugural flight and will spend three days exploring the D.C. monuments.
Gibson said he looks forward to "seeing the World War II memorial and seeing some of the names that are on there that I served with.”
Fellow Navy veteran Bob Marquam said this is a long time dream that he never thought would come true.
“The Capitol building, of course, has been something I’d love to see,” Marquam said. “But primarily the World War II memorial and a few friends’ whose names are on that.”
Marquam said his visit will be one last tribute to his friends.
The flight is also meaningful to businesses in the Northwest. The new flight is giving travelers direct access to Oregon and Washington. That will help bring in tourism money to the region.
Local business will also have direct access to the east coast and vice versa. U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell said the access into Reagan National Airport is a huge victory for the Northwest.
“Everybody in the nation fought for that. Everybody wanted their region to have more direct access, because it is a very profitable route,” Sen. Cantwell said. “The fact that we were able to say that we were very underserved here in Oregon and Washington--and that we should deserve this link--basically helped us win a very, very important route."
It literally took an act of Congress to make this flight possible. Reagan National Airport is so close to the Capitol that Congress has to approve any additional flights.
With the new Alaska flight now in service, Portland has two direct flights into the D.C. area. United flies non-stop from Portland to Dulles International Airport, which is about 25 miles from downtown Washington, D.C.