COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With the news Wednesday that Alaska Airlines will begin offering the first-ever direct flight between Seattle and Columbus, Central Ohioans naturally had to wonder if the new line of transit bolsters the chance that Amazon will locate its second corporate headquarters in Ohio.
Columbus is one of 19 remaining finalists for "Amazon HQ2," a municipal contest of sorts for the tech and online retail giant to site its second headquarters somewhere in North America. Columbus made the list of finalists but has not heard or released much to the public since that news earlier this year.
Then Wednesday, Alaska Airlines announced it would begin offering non-stop service from Columbus to Seattle in early March 2019. Columbus had been one of only two cities on the list of finalists that had no flight service to Seattle, with the other being Pittsburgh.
City officials were wary of saying much about the idea on Wednesday. Columbus 2020, the economic development arm that's responsible for the city's HQ2 bid, declined any comment.
"I think it only helps," said Mayor Andrew Ginther, before launching into a list of previous advantages that Columbus already boasted in its application for the contest.
Aviation experts cautioned enthusiastic locals from reading too much into the announcement.
"Alaska Airlines has no line-in (on HQ2's placement)," said Martin Rottler, an aviation industry insider and professor at Ohio State University. Rottler, like others, believes that Alaska Airlines is noting an already-strong business presence that continues to grow in the Central Ohio region.
"But if, for example, Amazon were to open a larger presence here...this could be a way for Alaska to start putting themselves in the market," Rottler said.
In OSU's College of Public Affairs, professor Ned Hill said there's plenty of industry and connections between Columbus and Seattle to warrant a regular direct flight — regardless of what Amazon eventually decides.
"If you go upo I-71, there's a building with the word 'Microsoft' on the side," Hill pointed out. "And we are a very important supplier of parts for Boeing Aircraft — another Seattle company.
"Planes and airport gates are expensive," Hill continued, "so airlines aren't going to pioneer a market unless they really think there's a base here."
Direct service begins on March 7th, 2019 with the first one-way tickets from Columbus to Seattle priced at $349.