Bakersfield · Travel

Skiiers rejoice: Airline rolls out two new routes between Valley, Reno-Tahoe

Hoping to take a trip up to the Biggest Little City in the U.S.A. later this year? Or how about hitting the slopes at ski resorts near Lake Tahoe?

The trek from the San Joaquin Valley might be a little bit quicker, courtesy of two new routes set for approval.

Tuesday, Kern County Supervisors approved a nine-month agreement with ExpressJet Airlines to operate a thrice-weekly route between Bakersfield-based Meadows Field and Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

ExpressJet is currently in the midst of restarting operations after suspending service under United Express livery amid the coronavirus pandemic, per reports.

Flights out of Bakersfield’s Meadows Field will commence on Oct. 25, the airline announced.

Wednesday, ExpressJet announced that it would launch not just the Bakersfield route, but another one between Reno-Tahoe and Fresno Yosemite International Airport, too.

The airline will start flying out of Fresno on Nov. 10 under a new brand name, “aha! Airlines,” officials said in a statement.

For Fresno, the route comes as the airport experiences historic, pre-pandemic levels of travel with the recent addition of Southwest Airlines flying multiple times daily to Las Vegas and Denver.

“We look forward to welcoming aha! to Fresno Yosemite International Airport and are excited to be a part of their new airline program with service to Reno-Tahoe,” said Fresno airports director Kevin Meikle. 

“aha!’s nonstop flights will connect Central Valley travelers to a variety of year-round recreational activities and iconic events. Reno-Tahoe expands our air travel gateway within the Western Pacific Region with more flights, more choices.”

Cornering a market of regional flyers

ExpressJet, which operated for 35 years as a regional carrier prior to its suspension of flights during the coronavirus pandemic, is taking a calculated approach toward selecting Reno-Tahoe as a hub.

Beyond the two San Joaquin Valley routes, aha! will begin flying to Ontario, Eureka, Medford, Ore., Eugene, Ore. Redmond, Ore., and Pasco, Wash. in the coming weeks.

“What really attracts us to Reno-Tahoe is it’s two destinations in one,” said Tim Sieber, ExpressJet’s business head of aha! Airlines, in conversation with The Sun. “It’s a gaming resort market and there’s also a ski market. We almost feel like we’re serving two destinations in a single flight.”

Sieber added that research and data acquired by the airline denoted heavy vehicle traffic to the Reno and Lake Tahoe area from the San Joaquin Valley.

“We think we can take that drive time and cut it down to a 55 minute flight. That just gives people more time. It’s a much better experience, especially in the winter.”

Sieber said that ExpressJet’s newly-launched service was developed as an adjustment to the post-pandemic economic reopening.

“As things started to open up again, we saw this opportunity,” he said. “There’s this pent up demand – maybe not for the once-in-a-lifetime European vacation or even a weeklong vacation in Hawaii – but people like outdoor activities and we see a kind of shift in the marketplace where people are looking for shorter, quicker, cheaper vacations.”

There may be something to the “close, but far to drive” vacation model for resort destinations being pitched by ExpressJet.

The airline, Sieber said, is keeping an eye out for additional hubs that meet the same kind of structure presented out of Reno-Tahoe.

This story was originally published on Tuesday, Sept. 28.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.