SBA offers direct service to Chicago
The Santa Barbara Municipal Airport will begin direct flights to the Windy City next month, offering customers a gateway to the Midwest as the tourism industry eyes a comeback in the latter half of this year.
Starting June 3, SBA will begin direct service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport with United Airlines.
Daily flights will depart at 7 a.m. and arrive in Chicago around 1:20 p.m. local time, and the plane can seat about 76 passengers.
This direct service expands on the seasonal weekend service offered by American Airlines out of SBA, which began nonstop flights to Chicago on May 8 and will continue offering service on weekends through Sept. 5.
The new United Airlines service will be the longest direct flight SBA currently offers, filling a gap in the market for both leisure and business customers while connecting Santa Barbara travelers to more than 60 international destinations via Chicago.
“Chicago is such a hub, such a great airport and so many people from all over the world come in and out of there,” Angi Daus, the marketing coordinator for the airport, told the News-Press. “So it expands opportunities literally all over the world for our constituents and community members to go all over the world from there. And there are real economic impacts for (our) area.”
She added, “Once things start opening for business travel, we see this being a dynamite route for that. Chicago is a great hub for businesses all over the world.”
Initially, the airport was expecting to offer direct service to Chicago starting a year ago, but plans were quickly slashed by the pandemic. Now, with travel making a comeback, airport officials are excited to finally offer this new connection in the Midwest, Ms. Daus said.
To celebrate the new direct service, Dave’s Dogs Grill will be set up outside the main terminal entrance from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday and Saturday for the entire month of June.
After a lagging year for the tourism and hospitality industry, local travel agencies are hopeful the new service to and from Chicago will entice new visitors to vacation in the region and bolster Santa Barbara’s economic recovery. For the hard-hit hospitality industry, the new service could mean hope is on the horizon.
“While local hotel performance has been improving during the last few weeks, we’re still not back to pre-pandemic levels,” Kathy Janega-Dykes, the president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, told the News-Press in an email. “Our research shows that the greatest drop in demand during COVID-19 was from markets outside of California, which is why the addition of new flights is especially important right now.”
Ms. Janega-Dykes added that mid-week travel is a “critical travel segment” that has been missing during the pandemic, and she is hopeful tapping the Chicago market could help generate an increase in demand. She also expects that as chilly winter weather descends on the Midwest, travelers will be eyeing an escape to the Central Coast.
“In the shoulder season, when East Coast weather turns cold and dreary, Santa Barbara will have greater appeal for this market,” Ms. Janega-Dykes said. “Visit Santa Barbara will be actively marketing to Chicago audiences for all of these reasons.”
Kristen Miller, the president and CEO of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce, also welcomed the airport’s new service, voicing enthusiasm over the potential for enhanced connectivity with domestic and international travelers. After a tough year for hotels, Ms. Miller said this announcement comes at just the right time as the tourism industry anticipates a post-pandemic comeback.
“The timing is right for this announcement as we see a vast reduction in COVID cases and increases in vaccinations,” Ms. Miller said in an email to the News-Press. “The Santa Barbara South Coast is ready to greet visitors and businesses are introducing more in person meetings. Both industry and tourism will benefit from this new route.”
She continued, “Chicago will now be the farthest direct flight out of Santa Barbara allowing more people faster access in and out of our community. The time for economic recovery is now and this added route will make a positive impact.”