Update: Reagan National Welcomes New Nonstop Service to San Francisco (Photos)

The inaugural flight arrived Tuesday, and included Obama and Romney impersonators among the passengers.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney flew into Reagan National Airport Tuesday afternoon. Actually, it was not the real presidential candidates but impersonators, a way for Virgin America to let the Washington area know it has started a new nonstop service to and from San Francisco.

According to Virgin, this is the first nonstop service between the nation’s capital’s nearest airport and the city by the Bay. Why did it take so long? The usual red tape, of course. “The new SFO-DCA route became available following the enactment of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which authorized the DOT [Department of Transportation] to award a limited number of new flights to US domestic airports located beyond DCA’s 1,250-mile ‘perimeter limit’,” Virgin America public relations representative Whitney Gaglio explained in an e-mail. She said a number of local politicians and business groups were instrumental in getting the route approved.

In addition to the look-alike Obama and Romney, there was a man on the flight—completely by coincidence—who looked uncannily like Paul Ryan, the Republican Congressman who was just named Romney’s running mate. “You’re kidding,” David Binetti said when asked if he was aware of his resemblance. He looked up Ryan on Google. “Oh, man,” he said, agreeing there was a similarity. “I hope I’m better looking.” Well, yes, actually. Binetti is from San Francisco and has a political social media site, Votizen. Like many of the passengers, he did not know he was on the inaugural flight of the Virgin America DCA service until he arrived at the airport.

Ryan, as it happens, was in Las Vegas, meeting the casino mogul and Romney sugar daddy, Sheldon Adelson, at the Venetian hotel.

Another passenger, Gailen David, disembarked with a special tiny carry-on: his three-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, Fergie, who was wearing pink bows. How did she like the inaugural flight? “She’s a great flyer,” he said. “She goes everywhere with me.” He said it costs $125 for him to buy the dog a companion ticket, and she rides in the cabin but has to stay under a seat at his feet the entire trip. David is a Washington native who now lives in Miami but travels much of the time for his website, the Sky Steward. For 20 years he was a flight attendant for American Airlines.

Virgin America created as much promotional hoopla as possible at the gate when Flight 1 arrived. Photographers focused on the impersonators—Jim Gossett as Romney and Reggie Brown as Obama—and even pulled Binetti into a couple of shots with Romney. “If my work doesn’t pay off, I may have to consider doing what they are doing,” Binetti said of the faux candidates.

David Cush, Virgin’s president and CEO, appeared happy, as did the passengers waiting to board Flight 2, bound for San Francisco.

For future reference, the new flight will depart San Francisco daily at 8 AM, arriving at DCA at 4:05 PM, in time for some business plus cocktails and dinner. The return flight, also daily, will take off from Reagan National at 5 PM, landing in San Francisco at 7:40 PM, in time to see the fog roll into San Francisco Bay.

This is just the latest nonstop service to enter the picture at Reagan. Last month, Southwest Airlines began new daily nonstop service between DC and Austin. Travelers pay a little more for the ticket but a lot less in transportation to and from the airport—at least until construction is complete on the Metro’s Silver Line to Dulles International. That date has not been announced.

The question everybody asks: Is Virgin America owned by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic? Not really. It’s a separate company, but Virgin Group does have a minority interest in Virgin America.