The Wright family of Windsor were surprised by all the hoopla at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport on Monday as they boarded Alaska Airlines' inaugural flight from Santa Rosa to San Diego.
"We've had this planned for months," said Jason Wright, who was taking his wife, Carmen, and children, Sam and Olivia, on a San Diego vacation. "We're excited. We didn't know it would be the first flight."
The Wrights plan to visit Legoland, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo, then see a Giants-Padres game.
On Monday, airline representatives, tourism officials and county leaders toasted Alaska Airlines' first San Diego flight in a passenger terminal festooned with blue-and-white balloons.
The daily nonstop will be good for Sonoma County and San Diego, they said.
"This flight links two very gorgeous parts of the country," said Hampton Brown of San Diego International Airport. "We plan to send up many San Diegans to enjoy your food and wine region."
Sonoma County travelers have been asking for San Diego flights, said Bill Essick of Alaska Airlines.
"We've asked people, and San Diego has always been high on their list," he said.
Bookings are "very solid" for the San Diego service, Essick said.
County tourism representatives are busy promoting the county as a meeting and conference destination in the San Diego market, said Ken Fischang, who heads the county's visitor bureau.
The flights will help county businesses expand, said Carolyn Stark of the county's BEST program, which promotes economic development.
Alaska announced in January the start of San Diego service and the end of its Santa Rosa-to-Las Vegas flights.
The daily nonstop leaves Santa Rosa at 4:25 p.m. and arrives in San Diego at 6:22 p.m. The first return flight from San Diego will arrive in Santa Rosa at 11:50 a.m. Tuesday.
The Seattle-based carrier on Monday also added a third nonstop from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. The 1:35 p.m. flight operates Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday during the summer season.
Alaska also offers daily service from Santa Rosa to Portland, Ore., and Seattle. The Santa Rosa flights carried more than 207,000 passengers in 2011.
The new Santa Rosa-to-San Diego flights are operated by Alaska's sister carrier, Horizon Air, using a 76-passenger, Q400 turboprop plane.
Horizon planes sport the Alaska brand and Alaska handles scheduling, ticketing, pricing and marketing.
Alaska is expanding in the San Diego market, adding other flights there. The carrier this week also started nonstop flights from San Diego to Fresno and Monterey.
You can reach Staff Writer Steve Hart at 521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.