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United plans direct flights between San Francisco, Indianapolis

August 28, 2013

United Airlines plans to offer nonstop flights between Indianapolis and San Francisco starting early next year, fulfilling a longtime wish of local tech firms eager for more direct access to the West Coast and Silicon Valley.

The daily flights, which are expected to begin on Jan. 7, are the product of recent talks between the airline, state economic development officials and members of the local tech community—particularly ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey.

The flights will be a boon for executives of ExactTarget and its new owner, Salesforce.com, which is based in San Francisco. Salesforce.com closed on its $2.5 billion acquisition of the local digital marketing powerhouse in July.

An official announcement from United and the state is expected within the next week or so. Dorsey did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday morning. A spokeswoman for the Indiana Economic Development Corp. wrote in an email, “We cannot confirm anything at this time.”

Local executives have long sought direct flights to the Bay Area, which includes technology epicenter Silicon Valley. Now-defunct local carrier ATA Airlines once provided service to the northern California city.

At an IBJ Power Breakfast panel discussion in 2012, some of the city’s top technology leaders complained that the lack of nonstop flights was one of the top issues hampering the local tech industry.

Venture capital firms in Silicon Valley often balk at visiting the city because of the time it takes to get here changing planes, they said.

“They need to be able to get up in the morning, wake up in their own bed, come here, do a board meeting or an interview and then get home for a late dinner or to tuck in the kids back in Silicon Valley,” ChaCha Search founder and CEO Scott Jones said.

Mark Hill, chairman of the technology promotion group TechPoint, said on Wednesday that he was pleased by news of the plans for direct flights to San Francisco. “There is a lot of capital and expertise there that we can leverage for the businesses we have here,” Hill said.

While the extra few hours required for connecting flights aren’t onerous in themselves, “the big deal is the risk of those flights being late,” Hill said. “It’s more the uncertainty. We don’t want to run the risk of spending the night in Denver.”

IBJ reported in April 2012 that Indianapolis Airport Authority Chief Financial Officer Marsha Stone had planned to meet soon with United officials about what it would take to start direct service to San Francisco.

Carlo Bertolini, spokesman for airport, said in an email to IBJ on Wednesday morning that the airport “has not been advised that any decision is in place regarding potential United service between [Indianapolis and San Francisco].”

United officials did not return a request for comment Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday, American Airlines initiated nonstop flights between Indianapolis and Los Angeles.
 

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