The San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport got an early Christmas present this year. On Dec. 13, it announced a new daily flight destination to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
American Airlines will begin the flights from San Luis Obispo to the busy national and international travel hub on April 2.
A spokeswoman for the airport said the Dallas flight would enable an additional 89 connections, expanding Central Coast access to the South, the Caribbean and South America.
“This is incredible in the larger context of the airport’s continued growth,” said Katie Franco of Perceive Communications, noting that the increased connectivity options for passengers is “huge for the Central Coast.”
The route will be served by an Embraer 175 jet, which has 12 first class seats, 20 seats with extra legroom and 44 seats in the main cabin. Tickets for the new flights will be available to purchase beginning Dec. 17.
This will be the second nonstop flight to Dallas from a Central Coast airport. American flies a single flight daily from Santa Barbara to Dallas on a CRJ-900 aircraft with 76 seats in first and economy class. The flight from Santa Barbara to Dallas is about three hours.
The news came on the heels of a productive year for both the SLO airport and the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport.
“The capacity at the airport here doesn’t change dramatically,” said SLO Airport Director Kevin Bumen, explaining that the airport doesn’t see strong seasonal shifts during the winter holiday. Passenger counts usually peak in the fall, especially during October, but this year June and July numbers were equal to October’s.
During the month of November and during the Thanksgiving holiday, traffic at the airport increased by about 10 percent from the same time last year, he said. While December passenger numbers aren’t yet in, Bumen estimated that the airport was on track for a 20 percent increase from last year’s travel numbers.
Although smaller airports like the SLO and Santa Barbara ones are challenged by “leakage,” a term that refers to an airport’s customer base opting to use bigger airports, both airports continue to report growth in 2018.
The SLO airport has been on a fast-track over the past several years, in part because it’s catching up to a customer base that has always existed but was largely underserved before, Bumen said.
The airport added additional flights to Denver on the weekends this year, opened a new terminal last year, and started flying larger aircraft in April. It was also named the 7th fastest-growing airport in North America by the organization Airport Council International in September.
“Our forecast will end the year at just under a half-million total passengers,” Bumen said. “We’ve added a lot of capacity here in the last couple years, and our demand continues to match the supply.”
At the Santa Barbara airport, passenger numbers were up by 7 percent in November — that’s without passenger counts from carrier Contour Airlines, which hadn’t released those numbers by press time.
“There’s a certain point when business travel takes a dip and leisure travel pops up,” said Deanna Zachrisson, business development manager at the airport.
During the holiday season, she said the airport sees an increase in infrequent travelers, but its business travelers often double back as leisure travelers, bringing their families and travel-savvy know how.
For the month of December, the airport currently has a 13.5 percent increase in the number of available seats, which is partly due to this year’s addition of carriers Frontier Airlines and Sun Country as well as increased United Airlines trips and new flights to Oakland and Las Vegas.
“We believe that demand is higher this year, based on what the airlines are telling us, but also there are more available seats this year,” Zachrisson said in an email to the Business Times.
Another holiday-related addition to Santa Barbara airport service is a holiday-themed golf cart shuttle, which runs from its long-term parking lot to the terminal.
That lot has been fuller that usual, Zachrisson said, so the airport began offering the shuttle service on Nov. 15 and will continue it through the holiday season.
The airport crew has seen more luggage as infrequent traveler numbers increase, and the service “seems to be pretty popular,” she said.
• Contact Annabelle Blair at [email protected]