Home News Local news Direct from Motor City: NWA Launches Flights Between Detroit and St. Thomas

Direct from Motor City: NWA Launches Flights Between Detroit and St. Thomas


Jan. 6, 2007 — While St. Croix celebrated Three Kings Day, St. Thomas had its own celebration as Northwest Airlines' inaugural flight landed at Cyril E. King airport Saturday afternoon.
Northwest will offer a weekly service from Detroit to St. Thomas on Saturdays only from now through April 28.
The passengers on flight 1731 looked a little surprised, then delighted, as they received a red-carpet welcome on the tarmac, complete with personal welcomes from local tourism and Port Authority officials: Monique Sibilly-Hodge, acting tourism commissioner; Beverly Nicholson, V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association president; Robert O'Connor, VIPA board chair; and Othneil Vanterpool, representing Robert Moorehead, acting Public Works commissioner. The officials offered smiles, handshakes and colorful T-shirts. The welcome was completed by the requisite mocko-jumbie, dolled up in an elaborate blue-and-gold outfit.
Once inside the terminal, the passengers were greeted with rum punches and serenaded by Coco and the Sunshine Band, which traveled from St. John for the occasion. The airport was crowded Saturday afternoon, and people welcomed the musical beat, tapping their feet while waiting in the long lines.
Two Northwest officials stepped off the flight eager to look over their new destination: Matt Friebe, Northwest schedule and planning director, and Karl Peterson, Northwest seasonal station coordinator. They were guests of honor at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Northwest counter, decorated in red, white and blue balloons and American and V.I. flags.
Gov. John deJongh had been scheduled to greet the group, but his duties officiating at the St. Croix Three Kings Day parade prevented him from getting to St. Thomas in time. Hodge gracefully stepped in, officiating at the ceremony, with the Rev. Neil Scantlebury offering the invocation.
Reading from deJongh's remarks, Hodge quoted the governor: "This new initiative is the first of many for my administration, which is fully dedicated to the growth and expansion of tourism as a primary driver of economic activity within the territory.
"We applaud Northwest Airlines for its vision in recognizing the enormous potential of the Virgin Islands for the company's business development in the Caribbean. The high level of investment provided by the airline by launching this program … reinforces the allure of the Virgin Islands as a travel destination with tremendous appeal for Midwesterners."
Both deJongh and Hodge praised the efforts of former Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards and members of the previous administration in bringing the service to St. Thomas.
Friebe said he was delighted for Northwest to bring snowbound Michigan folk to the sunny Virgin Islands. Bookings for the season look good, he said, and he anticipates a busy season.
The service is "an extraordinary opportunity for growth in our territory," Hodge said. "The timing couldn't be better, as we are experiencing one of our most robust winter seasons, and the Midwest is experiencing one of its snowiest. These new flights provide travelers from the snowy Midwest with even more flight options to America's Caribbean."
As the flight was about to take off to return to the chilly Midwest, Friebe stood on the tarmac, watching with the enthusiasm of a teenager. "I've never been on an inaugural flight before," said Friebe, a veteran of 21 years with Northwest. He asked a photographer standing by if he could get a picture of the flight as it took off — "rotating," in airline jargon. "I get so excited when I watch planes," he said, "even after all this time. It's like science fiction to me."
The idea to fly to St. Thomas started with a conversation he had with a colleague about a year ago about St. John, Friebe said: "I looked into it and contacted the port authority, and since then we've been working with the Tourism Department."
Before the inaugural activities got into gear, a passenger warily approached the Northwest counter, looking at the balloons and flags. Carolyn Fike teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit and was anxious to get back home. The counter agent confirmed Fike on the flight.
"My heart was thumping," Fike said. "I had no idea this was an inaugural flight. I had a nightmare getting here connecting on another airline — my bags were lost for four days." Taking another look around at the decorations, she said, "Now, this looks like it will be fun."
Flight 1731 is scheduled to depart Detroit at 9:45 a.m., arriving in St. Thomas at 3:08 p.m. It departs at 4 p.m. and arrives at 9:30 p.m. It uses an Airbus A-320 aircraft with 148 seats. For reservations, click here or call 1-800 629-6955. U.S. Citizens do not need a passport.
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