Wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey as he walked off Tuesday’s inaugural flight from London to Pittsburgh, Tom Schliker already looked the part as a local.
The Swansea, Wales, native made sure he was on the first nonstop flight to visit his father, who works in Pittsburgh.
“I come out with my sister or family members every summer or Christmas. I (usually) work holidays, so I spend my summers here, so it’s great for me with the weather,” said Schliker, who was sporting a Jake Guentzel top. “(The flight makes) it much easier for me. It saves four or five hours off a trip, so I’m refreshed and it’s great for me.”
The Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner also carried high expectations for business and tourism officials who hope the nonstop flight to London Heathrow Airport will contribute to the growing economic momentum in Western Pennsylvania.
”You can get a flight with British Airways from London to Pittsburgh. That’s a big, big deal,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “The business and leisure connections between Pittsburgh and the U.K. are numerous and this flight will be an economic driver for both markets.”
A delegation of local and state officials – including Fitzgerald, Pennsylvania Secretary of Community and Economic Development Dennis Davin, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis, VisitPittsburgh CEO Craig Davis, Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Stefani Pashman and representatives from industry leaders ATI and PPG – was aboard Tuesday’s flight after spending several days in London strengthening economic ties between Pittsburgh and the United Kingdom.
Members of that group, along with Simon Brooks, British Airways’ senior vice president of sales in North America, spoke at a celebration held in Baggage Claim C just after the flight’s arrival that featured a giant Union Jack made of balloons, a British telephone kiosk and a pop-up pub operated by Penn Brewery, among other fun elements.
“Being back in Pittsburgh after 20 years is just fantastic and we’re excited to start serving not just Pittsburgh, but all of Western Pennsylvania,” Brooks said. “Pittsburgh was just the obvious choice for us for so many reasons economically, mainly from a large corporate perspective.”
More than 150 people gathered for the event while popular Pittsburgh band Lovebettie jammed and TV cameras recorded passengers talking about their reasons for flying across the ocean.
Perhaps the most popular guests were members of the PIT PAWS therapy dog team, who greeted the arrivals while wearing Union Jack bandanas.
Not to be outdone, the Airside Terminal hosted a Beatles tribute band, actors dressed as Royal Guards and more as part of the grand opening of The Galleria, the airport’s new duty-free store in the Center Core.
“The experience was good. Landing to Pittsburgh, it was nice,” said Pranitha Konreddy of India, who is vacationing in Pittsburgh for almost three weeks. “I’ll go back to India through London. This is the first time I came to Pittsburgh.”
The new route will operate four days a week and is the first to be regularly served by the Dreamliner, which was built, in part, using technology and parts developed by ATI and PPG. Despite its Pittsburgh pedigree, the aircraft itself will spend very little time on the ground here.
Less than three hours after touching down, the jet took off for its return flight to Heathrow with full fuel tanks and a new crew sent off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by an 18-month-old girl named Georgia, who was taking her first-ever airplane ride.
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