San Francisco is going from zero non-stop flights to Washington National Airport to two non-stops this summer. Virgin America announced today that it will start its service to the airport just a few miles from Capitol Hill on August 14. United started service on the route two weeks ago. Flights from San Francisco to Washington National had been illegal for more than 40 years. Virgin America got a much coveted exemption to the airport’s perimeter rule.
As Silicon Valley becomes more prominent in the lives of Americans and moves into more regulated industries, it needs to get cozier with Capitol Hill. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter already have strong presences in Washington, D.C.
Both airlines already fly frequently to Dulles airport. The new flights promise to eliminate the often-maddening trek from Dulles to the nation’s capital.
“They’re really two very different markets,” Virgin America CEO David Cush told me in March, when the airline put in its request with the Department of Transportation. “Anyone who’s doing business on Capitol Hill, anyone who’s doing business on K Street or anywhere else in the heart of the city, it saves them roughly 75 minutes of commute time and a lot of uncertainty. You never know how long it’s going to take to get to Dulles.”
The new flights also offer an eco-friendly option: I took United’s inaugural flight from SFO to DCA. I was able to take BART from my apartment to SFO. When I landed at DCA, I hopped on Metro (think a much cleaner version of BART) for the short ride to my hotel.
United has an afternoon departure that leaves SFO at 1 p.m. and arrives at DCA at 9:17 p.m. The return flight leaves DCA at 8 a.m. and arrives at SFO at 11:05 a.m. Virgin America’s schedule is better for Bay Area travelers, with the SFO-DCA flight leaving at 8 a.m. and arriving at 4:05 p.m. The DCA-SFO flight leaves Washington at 5 p.m. and arrives at 7:40 p.m. All Virgin America flights offer WiFi for purchase and free in-seat power and free live television. United offers a live pay TV service for $7.99 from DirecTV on this route, but it doesn’t have WiFi.