Elaine Garvey has spent a good portion of her adult life waiting, wishing and hoping for a nonstop flight to connect her new home in New Orleans to her childhood home in the United Kingdom. On Monday night (March 27), she finally got her wish.
Nothing -- not the security line, the carry-on luggage nor her excited 3-year-old using the airport seating as gymnastics equipment -- could weigh down her grin as she waited at Louis Armstrong International Airport to board British Airways' inaugural nonstop flight to London.
Garvey is a native of Northern Ireland, but has lived in the U.S. for the past 17 years, including 10 years in New Orleans. She makes the trip across the Atlantic to see her mother in Ireland and close friends in London several times a year. In the past, it has involved long hours stuck waiting for connections in major hub airports such as Houston, New York or Atlanta. The nonstop flight makes her loved ones feel closer, she said.
"I know in my mind that it's the same distance, but you just feel so much closer because it's just one flight away," Garvey said, adding she bought tickets almost immediately after the flight was announced in October.
British Airways is optimistic Louisiana has more travelers like Garvey who will take advantage of the new route. Nicolas Krohne, vice president of sales for British Airways, announced Monday the airline will add an extra day to its planned flight schedule, increasing the route from four to five days a week.
Starting Oct. 30, the connection will be available on Tuesdays in addition to Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
"The flight is performing well," Krohne said. "On both sides of the pond, people are really excited about it."
The British Airways flight is the first nonstop route to connect New Orleans and Europe in more than 30 years. A jazz band played at Gate C11 Monday evening as state and local officials mingled after a 7:30 p.m. press conference and ribbon cutting officially welcoming the new flight.
The new flight comes as a $917 million terminal is under construction across the runway. This January the project was expanded to include five additional gates after a record number of travelers came through the airport in 2016.
Jeff Hebert, chief administrative officer for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration, said the British Airways flight underscores the momentum the city has as well as the need to invest in its airport infrastructure. Hebert thanked British Airways on behalf of Landrieu, who was unable to attend Monday's event.
"A world-class international airport is going to create the jobs of the future," Hebert said. "Creating a world-class airport makes economic sense."
The London flight was the culmination of several years of talks between British Airways and local business and tourism leaders. The city had missed previous attempts to lure the flight, including in 2015 when British Airways chose instead to bring a nonstop to San Jose, Calif.
A year later, efforts to sell New Orleans as a growing regional hub for incoming international travelers and outgoing American travelers finally gained the traction needed to lure the route.
"We didn't get it the first time or the second time, but when we got it, we got it good," Hecht said, noting the flight has already been expanded.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, one of about a dozen officials and business leaders who boarded the inaugural flight, urged those attending Monday to spread the news of the flight among family and friends.
"Remember the Saints are playing in London this year," Nungesser said, drawing laughs. The New Orleans Saints are set to play the Miami Dolphins Oct. 1 at Wembley Stadium in London.
For its part, British Airways is running $899 fare on round-trip economy fare for select dates from June 7 to Sept. 18 and from Oct. 2 to Dec. 13. Tickets must be purchased by April 16.
The British Airways flights depart London on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 3:40 p.m. local time and arrive at 7:40 p.m. New Orleans time. Returning flights leave New Orleans at 9:10 p.m. and arrive in London the next day at noon.
Garvey, a director with CPA firm Postlethwaite & Netterville, has already jumped on buying tickets for her and her 3-year-old daughter, Evie, for later this year. A London friend has bought tickets to take the flight to New Orleans for a visit in April.
Garvey will lean on the flight to whittle her mother's trips from Ireland to New Orleans down from three stops to two. The only thing left to do is set little Evie up with a frequent flyer account, she joked.
"Just knowing we can leave tonight and be with friends in the morning," Garvey said. "I could not be a bigger fan of all of this."