Southwest Airlines will begin its service out of Santa Barbara Municipal Airport this coming Monday with an event to welcome the first flight from Las Vegas — complete with a water cannon salute from airport fire trucks.
The airline is flying right out of the gate with five nonstop flights to Las Vegas, Oakland and Denver. This allows passengers to continue on to many more cities in the U.S. and even to Hawaii and Mexico.
Travel agents and airport officials hope the low-cost carrier will make airfares from Santa Barbara more competitive as it offers travelers more choices.
“It’s very exciting,” Deanna Zachrisson, spokesperson for the airport, told the News-Press Wednesday. “Even if they sell those (first) flights half full, they still will have the largest market share in the Santa Barbara market. It’s fascinating to see how they’re coming and will immediately be the largest carrier.”
She said Southwest will add valuable connecting points from Santa Barbara to other popular cities, with Denver connecting travelers to the eastern side of the country and Oakland connecting travelers to Hawaii. Along with the addition of Southwest flights, she said that American Airlines is adding Chicago service out of Santa Barbara in May, and she believes United Airlines will also add Chicago in June. Alaska Airlines will add daily service to San Diego in June too.
“We’ll be up to 11 cities by the end of June,” Ms. Zachrisson said. “That’s a pretty amazing place to be considering where we were a year ago.
“Carriers here already, we anticipate, are going to start adding capacity and fighting for that market share … Things are pretty fluid, but fluid in the right direction.”
Karen Ensign, an independent travel advisor in Carpinteria, told the News-Press that the cities being served by Southwest are popular for both leisure and business travelers. As of the first week of April, she hadn’t had anyone book service from Southwest to/from Santa Barbara yet, but the airline is quite popular among her other clients who fly out of other airports.
“I feel the service will benefit local travel agents and their clients,” she said. “The more competition in the market, the better.”
Local travel agent Rayanna Cole-Dombroski said Southwest to Las Vegas flight fares look “really good,” and she could see people living in other cities along the Central Coast driving to Santa Barbara to fly Southwest instead of driving to the Los Angeles International Airport.
“I feel that adding more lift out of Santa Barbara is always beneficial to our city and county,” she told the News-Press. “The role that Southwest will play depends on their fares. Sometimes, their fares are similar and even higher to other carriers. Where they have lower fares, I think they’ll do great.”
Ms. Cole-Dombroski pointed out that United has been the main carrier to Denver for years, so she’s unsure of how Southwest will do to Denver. In addition, she said Southwest will only benefit her business with booking fees she charges her clients, because Southwest is “not super agency friendly.”
“I think price is what will drive leisure travelers and some corporate travelers,” she said. “What I’ve seen in the past, living here since 1988, is that when a new airline comes in, the majors usually match or lower their fares to compete.”
Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, said increasing numbers of flights that land in Santa Barbara is a key component to economic recovery, and Southwest will provide business, leisure and educational opportunities for both local and out-of-market residents.
“From a hospitality perspective, Southwest’s low fares and expansive network will make Santa Barbara an even stronger competitor for leisure travelers, meetings and destination weddings,” she told the News-Press. “It will bring new customers for Santa Barbara’s hotels, restaurants, wineries and attractions.”
The arrival of Southwest is a result of the years-long advocacy by Visit Santa Barbara, the airport and city officials. Visit Santa Barbara committed $250,000 to support new Southwest flights through marketing.
“This travel should encourage support for the hospitality workforce who have been deeply affected by COVID-19,” Kristen Miller, the South Coast Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, told the News-Press. “This is an attractive area to visit and Southwest has a large network of destinations so, in time, we are hopeful the airline will add more destinations and flights.”
Monday’s event, which is hosted by the Santa Barbara Airport and Visit Santa Barbara, will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fire trucks will salute each flight arriving with the water cannons, and a team of Southwest officials will be present to welcome the new planes.