Airline announces intent to serve Santa Barbara Municipal Airport
At long last, residents and visitors of the Santa Barbara area will be able to fly Southwest.
The airline announced Wednesday morning its intent to serve Santa Barbara Municipal Airport starting in the second quarter of 2021.
After the first of the year, Southwest will announce the number of frequencies, destinations and fares, according to Airport Business Development Manager Deanna Zachrisson. So, as of right now, that information is yet to come.
As one of the nation’s largest airlines, Southwest provides connecting service to more than 100 destinations in the continental U.S., Hawaii and beyond.
“What typically happens in markets where Southwest goes in, they’re known for this Southwest effect,” Ms. Zachrisson told the News-Press. “They come in and tend to have lower fares and they tend to put pressure on prices, so there’s more competition and prices tend to come down.
“So, there’s demand out there for air service, and we know that we are typically losing it a lot of the time to airports to the south of us.”
Members of the community, the city, the hospitality industry, local business and the education sector have been working for years to bring Southwest’s no-fuss, low-fare service to the region.
“The pandemic has not been a good thing generally for all air travel, so we are really excited Southwest is coming next year, hopefully at a point in time when everyone can travel,” Ms. Zachrisson said.
A recent forecast by UCSB estimated 1,200 new jobs and more than $300 million in annual economic benefit as a result of Southwest’s service.
UCSB Economics Professor and Director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project Dr. Peter Rupert told the News-Press that he met some of the executives for Southwest, and “Santa Barbara has always been high on their list,” he said.
“I think because of the pandemic, they saw some real opportunities,” Dr. Rupert added. “The best I could tell was that they realized business travel is not going to come back as fast as leisure travel.
“When things open up and people are ready to go, they’re going to go… I think they (Southwest) view Santa Barbara as a very, very good destination for leisure travel going forward as people decide not to travel as much internationally.”
Dr. Rupert pointed out that the job and revenue estimates are only estimates, and cautioned the public to remember other things may not stay the same, such as other airlines adjusting to Southwest.
“It’s going to be a big shot in the arm to be honest,” he said. “I think people are going to be ready to get out of the house and personally, I see places like Santa Barbara, and that’s what Southwest decided to do. This is a very, very nice destination to come to, not too crowded, a lot of outdoor things to do.
“Making it easier to get here was the key, now with people from different areas being able to come here, I think we will see a big expansion in the second quarter.”
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo referred to the announcement as a “game changer for our entire region.”
“This new service boosts our economy in many ways, and we’ll need all the help we can get for economic recovery during and post-pandemic,” Mayor Murillo told the News-Press. “What’s exciting about Southwest flying out of our airport is that people can travel more easily for pleasure or for work.
“This gives us something to really look forward to once pandemic conditions subside,” she added. “We can travel to see friends and family, and people from other parts of California and the nation can fly into Santa Barbara and enjoy what we have to offer like our beaches, hiking, dining, sailing and other diversions.”
Currently, American, Alaska and United Airlines serve Santa Barbara Airport. Delta had service up until the fall of 2020, but suspended it because of the pandemic.
Alaska flies to Portland and Seattle daily; United flies to San Francisco and Denver (flights to Los Angeles were suspended during the pandemic); and American flies to Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth multiple times a day, according to Ms. Zachrisson.
Contour Airlines also once served Santa Barbara Airport up until the pandemic. It previously provided service to Oakland, Las Vegas and Sacramento.
Karen Ensign is a local independent travel agent, and said Southwest will be a “very good addition to Santa Barbara’s service.”
“It’s a low-cost carrier, so really a great value for my clients, but also a pretty high level of service even though they don’t offer true first class,” she told the News-Press. “They offer a business select class of service which gives passengers a couple of perks.”
She added that she hopes Southwest sticks around, as opposed to other airlines that have come and gone, such as Contour. In addition, she said that because Southwest flies to cities that are fairly popular for locals, she hopes to see nonstop service to Las Vegas, Oakland, possibly Chicago and Phoenix to add some competition for American Airlines.
“I think the more options we can offer, the better we can service our clients,” the travel agent said. “We can now offer clients that many more options, and it’s also good in keeping prices level or competitive when there are other airlines in the market.
“I’m just excited about the vaccine opening up the possibility of people traveling again.”