Irish airline Aer Lingus begins flying Seattle-Dublin in May, opening a new gateway to Europe.

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Irish airline Aer Lingus begins flying between Seattle and Dublin in May, opening a new gateway to Europe for the Pacific Northwest.

In an interview, Chief Executive Stephen Kavanagh said Aer Lingus will partner with Alaska Airlines to serve business and tourist travel between here and Ireland.

“We have strong demand at both ends of the route,” Kavanagh said.

And discussing his aircraft needs as he plans an ambitious U.S. expansion, he explained why for the foreseeable future his will be a largely Airbus fleet.

Starting May 18, the airline will operate a summer schedule of four Seattle-Dublin nonstop flights a week, reduced to three in the winter.

Born as Ireland’s government-owned national flag carrier, Aer Lingus has long been privatized and was transformed by the intense competition from Dublin-based low-cost-carrier behemoth Ryanair.

Today, it markets itself with a very similar message to Alaska’s: Low fares, yet with comfortable, superior service.

The Airbus A330-200 Aer Lingus will fly on the Seattle-Dublin route has 23 full-lie-flat seats in business class and 243 seats in economy.

Until June 15, the airline is offering an introductory $595 round-trip fare.

Selecting Seattle

Kavanagh said Aer Lingus chose Seattle as its third West Coast destination, after San Francisco and Los Angeles, not only because somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the Pacific Northwest population can claim Irish heritage, but also because of tight business links.

Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia and Starbucks all have significant operations in Ireland. Kavanagh said major businesses in the Seattle area directly employ 6,000 people in Ireland.

He’s even discussing a corporate travel program with rival Ryanair so its flight crews can more easily get to Seattle to pick up their new Boeing 737s — of which they took 50 last year.

He also believes the new direct route will bring additional tourist traffic to Seattle from Ireland.

As it does for any international airline opening a new route, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport waived landing fees for two years and contributed toward marketing costs with a total incentive package worth $1.1 million.

To make the route successful, the airline is promoting Dublin as a hub for Aer Lingus connections to more than 70 major European cities, an alternative to the larger London, Paris and Amsterdam hubs.

A unique advantage Dublin offers Americans is pre-clearance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Dublin airport on the way home.

“Our guests will arrive in Seattle already pre-cleared, equivalent to domestic passengers,” Kavanagh said.

Because connecting Aer Lingus flights with a U.S. network in Seattle is equally important, Kavanagh said he met with Alaska CEO Brad Tilden in recent weeks and the two plan to announce a formal partnership before flights commence in May.

A similar partnership with JetBlue has worked well for Aer Lingus on its East Coast flights.

That means Aer Lingus and Alaska frequent-flyer miles will be usable across the two airlines and Seattle connections can be booked along with the Dublin flight.

(Air France, which is launching its nonstop Seattle-Paris service Sunday, has a similar partnership with Delta.)

Airbus A321LR versus Boeing 797

Aer Lingus’ fleet of 53 jets includes a dozen Airbus A330s for long-haul international flights and 37 single-aisle A320s for short-haul flights. It also flies four older Boeing single-aisle 757s on transatlantic routes to the East Coast.

Although those 757s have Aer Lingus cabin crews and passenger services, they are actually leased from another Irish carrier, ASL Aviation, and flown by ASL pilots to avoid the complexities of mixing the different flight controls of the Boeing planes with the main Airbus fleet.

These long-haul single-aisle 757s raise the question of whether Kavanagh could be interested in Boeing’s proposed New Mid-market Airplane (NMA), unofficially referred to as the 797.

Not in the near term.

The 797 concept is for a jet intermediate in size and range between today’s roughly 150-seat, short-range single-aisle 737s or A320s and the 240-seat, long-range twin-aisle 787s or A330s.

At one time, it was thought of as a direct replacement for the 200-seat, 3,500-mile 757, though the concept has shifted to a plane carrying 225 passengers as far as 5,750 miles, or a shorter 5,200 miles with 275 passengers.

In response to Boeing’s idea, Airbus is pitching a new longer-range version of its A321neo jet, called the A321LR. That jet isn’t as efficient as the 797 will be, nor as big or as long-range — carrying 240 passengers about 4,600 miles. But it will be much cheaper.

While Kavanagh says that “we would, of course, be open to any new technology that can provide a cost advantage,” he said Boeing hasn’t yet pitched the 797 to him.

That’s probably because he was among the first to order the A321LR, with four scheduled for delivery next year and eight more through 2020.

“There’s no doubt the 757 is a more capable airplane (than the A321LR). It can carry a higher payload further,” Kavanagh said. Still, with Ireland’s geographic proximity to the East Coast, “the A321LR can fly anywhere we want to fly the 757.”

He’s bringing in those dozen new A321LRs to fuel a continuing U.S. expansion. Five years ago, Aer Lingus flew about 1 million passengers per year across the Atlantic. Today, the figure is more than 2.5 million.

The airline opens a Dublin-Philadelphia route Sunday. Kavanagh said Aer Lingus will announce new U.S. destinations for 2019 later this year.