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Inaugural flight of Delta's nonstop Utah-France route 'smooth'

Published June 3, 2008 12:42 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The fruits of Delta Air Lines' first daily trans-Atlantic route between Utah and Europe emerged shortly after the inaugural flight from Paris touched down at Salt Lake City International Airport on Monday afternoon.

Flight 171 poured out a throng of 211 passengers whose reasons for flying aboard the Boeing 767-300 jet seemed equally divided between commerce and leisure.

They were Americans and French, young and old, business people and tourists, people ending their journey in Salt Lake City and travelers transferring to flights to other western U.S. destinations. Some knew they were aboard the first flight. Others had no idea until they boarded.

"It was wonderful, a very nice flight, very nice food," said Marc Lefebvre, a businessman from Fontainebleau, about 40 miles south of Paris, who was flying on to Las Vegas to attend a meeting. Lefebvre planned to be back in Salt Lake City to spend a day before catching a return flight to Paris.

"It's my first time here in Salt Lake but second time in America," said Marie-France Delattre, a photographer from Nantes who was about to catch a taxi for a ride to her downtown hotel. Delattre and her husband were planning a 24-day picture-taking adventure in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

Delta and state economic development officials could not have hoped for more from the only nonstop service by a U.S. carrier between the western U.S. and Paris.

The route promises economic rewards for Utah's economy. Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, hinted that an announcement relating to a Utah company could be forthcoming by Saturday. Perry was among about 40 government, education and business officials set to board the outbound flight back to Paris; they will be in France and Germany for several days.

Jeff Edwards, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, returned Monday to Salt Lake from Europe, where he met with several companies that are setting up operations or are interested in expanding to Utah.

Edwards said he paid a visit to Sephora, a Paris-based retail beauty products chain that is building a 300,000-square-foot distribution center near the Salt Lake City airport. The center will create several hundred jobs, he said.

"One of the factors in coming to Salt Lake was that this direct service was going to be available."

The dawn of a new transportation era began around 1:30 p.m. Monday with a puff of white smoke from under the wheels of the wide-body jet as it landed on time after an 11-hour flight that began at Charles de Gaulle International Airport at 2:20 a.m., MDT. Preceded by a phalanx of seven siren-blaring police and fire vehicles, the aircraft rolled through a water cannon salute from two tank trucks before docking, dripping wet, at Gate D-2 in Terminal 2.

"The flight was a delight, very smooth," Capt. Larry Foster said, a Delta pilot for 28 years. "Our routing today fortunately took us over Greenland. It was very clear. We saw the mountains, the snow and the ice."

Delta spokesman Anthony Black said the airline began selling tickets for the flight on the same day the route was announced last August. "We always thought it would do very well. With the flight [from Paris] all but full, we couldn't do any better than that."

The jet rested in Salt Lake until 5 p.m., when it began its return flight to Paris with a similar number of passengers, who began gathering at the gate more than an hour before departure. As they waited, the crowd was regaled with live accordion music and hors d'oeuvres served on trays by uniformed attendants.

"I'm meeting my Internet girlfriend. She's from Russia. She has to leave the country one time before she is allowed to emigrate. So she picked Paris," said Dan Barranza of Provo.

Ogden resident Brodie Ellanson was traveling to Paris on tickets wife Jessica won five weeks ago in a contest sponsored by a Salt Lake City radio station.

"I'm a little nervous. This is only the third time I've ever flown," Ellanson said. "The farthest east I've ever been is Colorado."

The route promises a speedier and cheaper link to Paris and points beyond, said Colin Ferguson and Ayla Khan, Canadians who now live in Salt Lake. The pair had returned from Paris after traveling around Europe for two weeks. Their outbound trip began with a flight to Cincinnati, where they transferred to a jet bound for Frankfurt. Travel time was 13 hours - two hours more than the return journey.

"It's so much harder to connect. This is so much simpler, so much more convenient," Khan said.

Said Barranza, who flew through John F. Kennedy International Airport to Ukraine in March to meet his girlfriend, "This direct flight saves me $300 in New York City."

pbeebe@sltrib.com