Alaska Airlines has applied for authority to provide the first daily nonstop service from Los Angeles to the resort of Cancun, Mexico, by an American carrier.

Service is scheduled to begin the third week of October, if approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Mexican aviation authorities.

"We have been a substantial player on the west coast of Mexico for quite a while," said David Palmer, managing director of marketing for the Seattle-based airline. "We probably have reached the level of service we need to in that area, so we decided to make an incursion into the east coast of the country. To us, it was a natural progression, and the customer interest seems to be there."

The Mexican carrier Mexicana also serves Cancun nonstop daily from L.A.

Cancun is located on the Caribbean coast, on the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and receives more than 3.7 million visitors annually. About one-third of all tourist arrivals in Mexico are at Cancun.

Palmer said the decision to serve the Cancun market came largely as a result of prodding from tour operators. Tour companies were clamoring for nonstop service to Cancun to support lucrative tour packages to the Caribbean island Cozumel, south of Cancun.

"We did some market research and realized there was a definite market there. Not only for Americans, but for people who live in Mexico to come to California and back," Palmer said.

Plans are in the works for L.A.-to-Cancun tour packages that include a trip to Cozumel, Palmer said.

Priscilla Calvo, a leisure tour specialist at Los Angeles' Uniglobe Wilshire Travel agency, said Alaska Airlines' proposed nonstop service to Cancun would be welcomed by tour operators and travelers alike.

"It's definitely good news. Passengers always request nonstop, and a lot of people will decline a tour package if they have to change planes," Calvo said. "They don't want to waste the time getting there that they could be spending at the place they want to go...People will change their destination just to get a nonstop flight."

Alaska plans to serve the Cancun route using 14 of its fleet of Boeing 737-700 aircraft. The planes each seat 120 passengers, 12 in first class and 108 in coach. If the route proves successful enough to require larger aircraft, Alaska would use its 172-seat (16 first class, 156 coach) Boeing 737-900 model.

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