New Orleans officials had scheduled a special announcement Tuesday at Louis Armstrong International Airport, with speculation growing over whether the city had landed the big fish it was after: British Airways.
But late Monday, the announcement was postponed due to a "scheduling conflict," said Hayne Rainey, a City Hall spokesman, who said the event was in the process of being rescheduled.
A source with knowledge of the negotiations said late Monday that postponement of the news conference should not be taken as a signal that the announcement will not happen. The source declined to confirm the name of the carrier or the international destination it will fly to.
But for years, local business leaders have worked to lure a large international carrier to provide direct service between New Orleans and a premier European destination — with London being their fondest dream. Getting nonstop flights to and from such a world business capital, they reasoned, would help draw more international travelers and diversify New Orleans' tourism-heavy economy.
Airport officials and business leaders got a taste of transatlantic success when the German airline Condor in June announced plans to begin nonstop service from New Orleans to Frankfurt next summer.
While New Orleans' airport offers nonstop service to several foreign cities, mainly in the Caribbean, most international carriers have bypassed the Crescent City since the 1970s, instead favoring larger regional hubs like Atlanta and Houston.
Although Condor's market is mostly leisure rather than business travelers, Frankfurt is a major business destination as well, offering air connections to virtually every other city in Europe as well as the Middle East.
But the big prize has been having direct flights to London's Heathrow, which is Europe's busiest airport, with about 80 airlines serving 185 destinations in 84 countries. New Orleans hasn't had a nonstop flight to Europe since 1982.
Miami-based National Airlines began the first transatlantic flights to and from New Orleans in the late 1970s. But consumer demand fell amid the 1980s oil bust, and no one has stepped up to fill the void since then.
Perhaps until now?
Some industry experts said it makes sense that New Orleans would be high on British Airways' wish list. Among foreign tourists visiting New Orleans, only Canadians outnumber Britons.
"New Orleans has more demand just in terms of the number of travelers who want to fly between Europe and there," said Seth Kaplan, a managing partner at Airline Weekly, an industry trade publication.
After British Airways began flying nonstop from Austin, Texas, to Europe in early 2014, the route became popular, and the service was later expanded.
"Even though Austin's not a huge city, there's a ton of really strong corporate travel demand," Kaplan said. "That's probably why British Airways picked Austin first, and now when they're looking at other cities that are sizable cities with a fair amount of demand that don't currently have service, it's logical that New Orleans would be next on the list."
After a courtship that began in 2012, New Orleans' supporters were dealt a setback last year, when British Airways added Mineta San José International Airport, which is situated in the heart of California's tech scene, as its newest U.S. destination.
In interviews Monday, some local officials and business leaders said they'd received invitations to Tuesday's announcement, but they could only speculate that it was related to the city's longtime pursuit of the London-based airline.
Neither British Airways nor New Orleans airport officials responded to requests for comment Monday.
"For competitive reasons and to protect confidential company information, we can't comment on current or potential prospects,” Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson said in a statement.
Passenger traffic at New Orleans' airport has grown steadily in recent years, hitting 10.7 million travelers in 2015, the most in its seven-decade history.
Already, New Orleans attracts about 675,000 international travelers annually. Adding to that figure is a longstanding goal for local hospitality leaders, and for good reason. International travelers tend to stay longer — typically as long as 18 days — and to spend more money during their visit than U.S. tourists, according to a recent University of New Orleans study.