ONTARIO - Kathy Milton often flies to the Inland Empire from her home in Reno to visit family.

But without a direct flight, the trip could sometimes take six hours, between connections and layovers, before arriving at L.A./Ontario International Airport.

Now, with a 90-minute nonstop flight to ONT, Milton said she no longer has to spend a significant portion of her day traveling.

"With this I'll be able to come down and visit for weekend jaunts," said Milton, who added this new flight allowed her to fly back in time for work Monday morning.

The route is aimed at winter sports enthusiasts seeking vacation travel to Reno-Tahoe area.

As Milton was getting ready to return home Monday morning she encountered a celebration for the seasonal service by Los Angeles World Airports and Southwest Airlines from ONT to Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which began on Sunday. Several items of snow gear was also raffled off.

To commemorate the service, LAWA staff treated passengers and members of the airport to breakfast. An area of Terminal 4, near the boarding gate for the Reno flight, was sectioned off and decorated to resemble a snowy lodge in the mountains, complete with some wildlife.

This is the first new route out of ONT in 18 months. Daily service will run for three months from January to early April.


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The carrier plans to use a 137-seat 737 for daily flights, a spokeswoman for the airline said.

Southwest, the largest carrier at ONT, is the only airline to provide nonstop, round-trip service between ONT and Reno/Lake Tahoe with one daily flight. Southwest operates out of Terminal 4 with arrivals at 7:30 a.m. and departures at 8:05 a.m.

"I'm excited to get to have this nonstop which is much more convenient. I just hope it's going to be supported," Milton said. "I really want this to happen."

That's exactly what airport manager Jess Romo is hoping for. He hopes the flight to Reno proves popular, which could lead to Southwest expanding flights from Ontario.

"I hope it does grow and sustain itself to be viable route," he said.

Southwest Reno-Tahoe service was cut as Southwest changed its presence in different airports over the past five years, Romo said.

At the same time, how successfully Southwest can book enough seats for Reno will determine its success.

LAWA - which also operates Los Angeles International and Van Nuys airports - has paid for print advertising in Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley regions to market the flight. Romo would not say how much has been invested in the advertising, adding that ONT staff are working on a bigger marketing plan for the airport which will be released some time this year.

He did say they expect a more grassroots effort, relying on more word of mouth advertising to market the service.

The last time the airport got a new route for a major carrier was in the fall 2010, when Southwest opened flights to Midway International Airport in Chicago, Romo said.

Carolyn Odoh, Southwest Customer Service supervisor based at ONT, said Monday's flight had about 43 passengers but expects to see high-volume of passengers on Thursdays and going through the weekend.

"We are excited about the new nonstop service and new cities throughout the 2013 year," she said.

Southwest Airlines recently merged with Airtrans which mean new cities could come to ONT, Odoh said.

Passengers on Monday morning talked about the convenience of the service. Kierstein Weik admits she had no idea ONT even existed until she began looking for flights for her daughter, Keaerra, who attends a university in Reno. The San Marcos resident said she normally chooses Los Angeles International Airport and in some cases San Diego International Airport.

"It's more reasonably priced than San Diego and much more shorter distance than LAX," she said.

Even though Weik has flown out of LAX, she has sometimes been stuck with a connection. 

"It takes up your whole day," she said.

Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, was on his way to Sacramento when he saw encountered the festivities.

Morrell said he had no idea about the event or the flight option.

"It's nice to see our airport expanding considering our challenges with L.A.," he said. "Every little bit helps. It's a shot in the arm to the airport."


Reach Liset via email, call her at 909-483-8556, or find her on Twitter @DBOntarioNow.