Santa Barbara received what some may consider an early Christmas present on Wednesday when Southwest Airlines announced it will begin operating the Santa Barbara airport in 2021.
Southwest’s announcement, including its plan to also serve Fresno Yosemite International Airport, is as the aviation industry continues to be plagued by significant turbulence from the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed more than 300,000 lives in the United States.
Airport officials worked with industry to lure the country’s third-largest airline to Santa Barbara, including by making a significant financial contribution to the Dallas-based company’s local start-up costs.
Southwest didn’t announce specific routes on Wednesday, but sources tell Noozhawk the carrier is looking to Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and San Diego, as well as existing routes such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
“Our arrival in the heart of California, both on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley, will complete nearly four decades of investment in our California customers and communities,” said Andrew Watterson, Southwest executive vice president and chief commercial officer in a statement. press release.
“As other airlines seem to be falling in love with the state, we are focusing on expanding the reach of our low fares and flexible policies in places we expect to make a difference.”
According to Deanna Zachrisson, business development manager for Santa Barbara Airport, according to the current timeline, Southwest flights from Santa Barbara are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2021.
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo called Southwest’s decision a “game changer for our entire region.”
“This news couldn’t come at a better time,” she added. “We see the light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic, and Southwest will come to Santa Barbara, just as we all want to travel again.”
Southwest, which only flies several models of the Boeing 737 plane, is reportedly planning to announce the first routes it will fly after the first of the year, and has planned a three-pronged approach to the Santa Barbara market, depending on the success of his efforts.
“Adding Southwest Airlines to the airline roster at SBA is a huge achievement,” said Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce. “We are proud to find an airline partner with easy access to a network of destinations that will drive economic growth in many industries, including business, technology, hospitality and more.
“This achievement further positions our region as one of the leading technology sectors in the country, especially with easy access to the San Francisco Bay Area.”
The arrival of Southwest will create an estimated 125 jobs for the community, Miller said – everything from pilots and flight attendants to ramp and gate workers and various support services.
“The arrival of Southwest Airlines is an important milestone for the Santa Barbara community, and not just vacationers,” said Bill Macfadyen, Noozhawk’s publisher and the chamber’s co-chair.
“In a year that has been so challenging, this partnership provides exciting opportunities for our regional business community and some of our country’s leading innovators and entrepreneurs who are looking beyond today’s public health and economic crises.”
Southwest takes a unique approach to the business; in particular, it does not allocate seats to its passengers, nor does it provide traditional first-class or business-class amenities.
By entering the market, Southwest is likely to put some price pressure on other airlines, especially if it flies to cities or regions they already serve.
“Southwest Airlines’ entry into new markets is known for creating a ‘Southwest effect’ by increasing both competition and demand for air services,” said Zachrisson.
Visit Santa Barbara’s CEO Kathy Janega-Dykes predicts that “the arrival of Southwest Airlines will bring new customers to Santa Barbara’s hotels, restaurants, wineries and attractions. Their famously low rates and extensive network will make us an even stronger competitor to destination vacationers, meetings and weddings. “
Airlines currently flying into the Santa Barbara airport include Alaska, American and United, although all have cut their schedules due to the coronavirus crisis.
Alaska offers daily flights to Portland and Seattle and last summer announced it will fly to San Diego in late November, although the start of that service has since been delayed.
American serves Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth, though it has cut its flight schedule and downsized its fleet.
United flies to Denver and San Francisco, but has suspended flights to LAX, removing a major connection to other destinations in the province.
Delta Airlines, which returned to the Santa Barbara market in August 2019 after a long hiatus, suspended its daily flights to Salt Lake City in July.
Contour Airlines, which served markets like Oakland and Sacramento with small commuter jet jets, stopped its local flights in late March.
Frontier Airlines also discontinued seasonal service to Denver in June.
“It was a real pleasure to see such a partnership with the airport and the city, and to visit Santa Barbara to make this happen,” said Miller.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and April, passenger traffic plummeted in Santa Barbara, as it does across the country.
Airport officials estimate that traffic fell by as much as 95% before it slowly started to burst; Over the Thanksgiving weekend, passenger numbers in Santa Barbara were still down about 65% from the previous year.