By Paul LaRocco
Carol Kessler travels to Washington, D.C., once a month for her job at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
But before Sunday, the Calverton resident's only option through Long Island MacArthur Airport took her into Baltimore -- from where she had an hour-plus ride via train to the nation's capital.
"When we heard this news," said Kessler, nonproliferation chairwoman for the federal facility in Upton, "the entire lab lit up."
The news she referred to -- the return of direct flights from MacArthur to Washington's Reagan National Airport -- was a cause for celebration at the Ronkonkoma airport. As passengers like Kessler awaited Long Island's first D.C. departure since 2001, balloons floated from the terminal counter and elected leaders mingled with airport workers over coffee and Italian cookies.
"We hope to just continue adding options for our residents," said Islip Supervisor Tom Croci. "Give us a flight to the Caribbean; give us something on a direct line out West. We've got plenty of room."
US Airways Express, through its partner Air Wisconsin, will operate two daily flights between MacArthur and Reagan on 50-seat Canadair regional jets. Sunday's 1:28 p.m. inaugural nonstop was a little more than half-full, but officials expect brisker business from weekday commuters and, eventually, weekend visitors.
"Everyone on Long Island knows how hard it is to use the New York airports," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who pushed US Airways to resume the service.
In 2009, the airline announced it was considering returning its daily MacArthur-Reagan flights if federal officials allowed a slot-swap with Delta at LaGuardia. Approval came late last year.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), whose newly configured congressional district includes the airport, said the region could receive a boost in wooing businesses by noting the return of direct D.C. flights. He also joked it was so convenient for his travels it felt "almost like a special benefit."
"It's not only helpful to me," King said. "It's helpful to all of Long Island and its economy."
The flights already were saving others time and money. Domenico Tiziano, 23, of Tennessee, had visited friends in Northport, and after arriving at Kennedy Airport last week spent $156 for a taxi ride to Suffolk County.
"I'm happy in every possible way," he said, awaiting his flight to D.C., which would connect him to Tennessee. "I'll never fly into JFK or LaGuardia to come out here again."