Southwest Airlines announced new daily routes to Las Vegas, Oakland and Denver from its new service at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport Thursday morning, giving officials hope that the travel industry could make a comeback in 2021.
After a tumultuous year for the travel industry in 2020, officials say this news could not have come at a better time.
“Air travel is very sluggish during the pandemic, but increasing the number of flights that are landing in Santa Barbara will be fuel for the economic recovery,” Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, told the News-Press.
The Southwest service at the local airport will offer three daily flights to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport, one daily flight to Denver International Airport, and one daily flight to Oakland International Airport starting on April 12, 2021. Tickets for these new routes are available now.
Airport officials say these new routes will give travelers access to more than 50 cities in Southwest’s network through connecting flights in Las Vegas, Oakland and Denver.
“You can get anywhere you want to go on the same airline,” Deanna Zachrisson, airport development manager for Santa Barbara Airport, told the News-Press. “One of the biggest benefits is that you can get to Washington D.C. in one stop. You can fly to Vegas or Denver and get to D.C. after one stop. It’s just all that more convenient if you’re getting to the East Coast from Santa Barbara.”
Visit Santa Barbara played a leading role in bringing Southwest Airlines to the airport. The organization was in consistent contact with the airline for about five years before Southwest executives made the decision to expand their services locally December 2020.
In the coming months, Visit Santa Barbara will be contributing some $250,000 to support the new Southwest flights.
“Visit Santa Barbara is making a significant investment in this service because we are determined for it to be successful,” Ms. Janega-Dykes said in a statement. “We want to give the new flights the best chance of remaining in market, and by extension, support our local workforce so that they can recover.”
According to Ms. Zachrisson, Southwest has thousands of members in the Santa Barbara area, and without a Southwest gate at the local airport, many were traveling to airports farther south to fly with the airline.
With the addition of the airline to the airport’s lineup, Ms. Zachrisson is confident having Southwest Airlines flights locally will give members in the area a more accessible port of departure and aid in the economic recovery.
“Right now everything is abnormal, but I think it’s going to be interesting to see how quickly travel rebounds,” Ms. Zachrisson said. “Having (Southwest) as part of the lineup gives us the potential to rebound much more quickly.”
Karen Ensign, a local independent travel agent, is very positive about the addition of Southwest flights to the Santa Barbara airport. In her experience, having these routes available will provide convenient options for many of her clients.
In the coming months of 2021, travel options remain a question mark for many consumers, but Ms. Ensign is hopeful that an April roll out date for these flights will give people enough time to see vaccine progress and decide if it is safe to travel.
“As more people are vaccinated, I think there will be an uptick (in travel),” Ms. Ensign said. “The fact that the service isn’t starting until April gives three months to see what is happening with the vaccine. I think by the time April rolls around, I see a lot of people booking Southwest to these destinations.”
Though the pandemic brought significant challenges for travel agents, Ms. Ensign says many agents are hopeful that the vaccine is a “light at the end of the tunnel.”