Southwest Airlines announced Dec. 16 that it plans to start flying out of Santa Barbara Airport in the spring, something airport officials and frequent fliers have wanted for decades.
The airline has not said yet which cities it would serve from Santa Barbara, or how often, but airport officials anticipate “several departures a day,” Deanna Zachrisson, the airport’s business development manager, told the Business Times.
“They’re going to use Santa Barbara as a jumping-off point into the rest of their network,” she said. “That’s what’s great about it: you can get anywhere with basically one stop. We’ll be curious ourselves where they decide to connect people. There are so many good options.”
Zachrisson said she expects an announcement about destinations in early 2021. Southwest’s major connecting airports in the Western United States include Oakland, Phoenix and Denver. It serves 12 airports in California, including Sacramento, San Jose, Burbank, Los Angeles and San Diego.
There should be plenty of demand for Southwest flights out of Santa Barbara. U.S. Department of Transportation statistics show many Santa Barbara residents fly Southwest frequently, Zachrisson said—they just drive to Burbank or Los Angeles to do so.
When Southwest does come to Santa Barbara, it should push prices down for every airline flying out of the city, something Zachrisson referred to as “the Southwest effect.”
“They’ve been known for that in other cities. They come in and the put pressure on prices,” she said. “They do typically charge lower fares, which does two things: It helps drive competition and lower fares for everyone, which is good for consumers, and it just creates more demand. More people will fly.”
Southwest would be the fourth airline to serve Santa Barbara Airport, joining American, United and Alaska. Those airlines take passengers directly to Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the airport has lost service from the charter carrier Contour Airlines, Delta Airlines suspended its flights between Santa Barbara and Salt Lake City, and United discontinued its flights between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
Passenger volumes are down about 65% from record-high levels in 2019, Zachrisson said. The numbers have been climbing slowly since early in the pandemic, but they have not risen high enough to entice airlines to add any new flights yet.
Alaksa Airlines announced in August that it would start flying between Santa Barbara and San Diego shortly before Thanksgiving, but it has yet to begin that route. Alaska now plans to add that route in the spring, Zachrisson said—like Southwest, it appears to be betting on a return to air travel as vaccines become widespread and the virus is less prevalent than it is now.
“The hope is that prior to that spring break period of time, things will have improved sufficiently that we will start seeing some pent-up interest in travel,” Zachrisson said.