Santa Barbara Airport customers can now book flights to the Windy City as American Airlines adds Chicago to its SBA destinations from May 8 to September.
The airline started selling tickets to the Chicago O’Hare International Airport Saturday.
The flights depart Saturdays and Sundays from Chicago at 9:50 a.m. and arrive in Santa Barbara around noon. Then the airline flies back to Chicago at 5:45 p.m. the same day.
Chicago O’Hare provides connection to many national and international flights.
“It’s really significant,” Deanna Zachrisson, Santa Barbara Airport public information officer, told the News-Press Tuesday. “Before the pandemic hit, we thought we’d be adding Chicago on United. It’s been next on our list for cities to the East.”
Because of the pandemic’s strain on air travel, Contour, Delta and Frontier Airlines suspended services from the Santa Barbara Airport. Officials at the airport have begun checking with these carriers for plans to return.
The pandemic opened spots in Chicago O’Hare for American Airlines to add the Santa Barbara flight.
“(American Airlines has) been performing pretty well here, all things considered. They felt pretty comfortable adding a Chicago flight,” Ms. Zachrisson said.
Business travel is minimal nowadays, she said, so the flight will primarily serve vacations and family visits.
“The more variety, in airlines and destinations, available will appeal to leisure and business travelers,” a spokesperson for the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce told the News-Press. “This is why the Chamber is a big supporter of enhanced air connectivity. It has a very positive impact on the local economy and jobs.”
Prior to adding Chicago, the airport only had one Midwest location: Denver. The new destination will stretch the airport’s reach.
“Improved connectivity to the Midwest will make Santa Barbara more attractive to leisure travelers, national meeting planners and event attendees served by the hospitality industry,” Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, said.
“At the same time, it will provide opportunities for other sectors in our community, like business and education, and Santa Barbara residents who’d like to travel. It will be the farthest nonstop flight market for us to date,” she told the News-Press.
Visit Santa Barbara, the South Coast’s destination marketing organization, plans to reach Chicago and the new destinations provided by Southwest with its efforts.
“As vaccines continue to roll out, consumer confidence in flying will grow, and Visit Santa Barbara will inspire air travel, while continuing to promote safe travel practices. In March, we are expanding our markets not only to Chicago but other nonstop flight cities. We expect the impact of this investment to be felt by local businesses through the spring and summer months,” she said.
Tourism in Santa Barbara has looked different the past year. Most visitors are Californians on day trips, and despite efforts to boost business among these weekenders, the hospitality industry is not as fruitful as it once was.
“Californians already enjoy Santa Barbara for diverse experiences. Some discover our community during a short day trip, but many others make longer overnight stays. Out-of-state visitors, although less common during the pandemic, stay 25% longer than Californians,” Ms. Janega-Dykes said. “This extra time translates to stronger economic impact per trip, and likely translates to saving even more jobs within our hardest hit sectors: hotels, retail shops and restaurants.”
Southwest Airlines will start service in Santa Barbara April 12.
“Santa Barbara Airport is doing a great job working with airlines to find the right balance of carriers and destinations for our region,” the Chamber of Commerce said. “The variety of new options at SBA is a positive sign for our economic recovery.”