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Southwest Airlines wins JetBlue's abandoned slots in Long Beach

Sept. 03, 2020
4 min read
Southwest Airlines wins JetBlue's abandoned slots in Long Beach
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Southwest Airlines is well on its way to dominating another Southern California airport once JetBlue Airways says goodbye to its long-time base in Long Beach.

The City of Long Beach has awarded the Dallas-based carrier all of JetBlue's 17 slots at the airport, according to a Sept. 2 statement. The allocation will give Southwest 34 slots at Long Beach (LGB), which is limited to just 53 daily commercial flights.

The added flights come as Southwest continues to fly far less than it did last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Executives have warned that, barring a sudden massive return to the skies by travelers, the carrier could be at least a quarter smaller at the end of December compared to 2019 with a slow, choppy recovery ahead.

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Air travel remains down around 70% compared to last year, according to data from trade group Airlines for America (A4A). The organization does not expect U.S. airlines to recovery to 2019 flyer numbers until at least 2024.

The COVID-19 downturn prompted JetBlue's decision to pull up stake in Long Beach and move its West Coast base to nearby Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The New York-based carrier will end its 17 daily Long Beach flights on Oct. 6, and add nonstop service to seven western cities from LAX the next day.

JetBlue head of revenue and planning Scott Laurence has described the move to one of its "most successful" markets as an example of seizing opportunities created by the pandemic. In the case of LAX, this means picking up a vacant gate at the notoriously gate-tight airport.

Related: JetBlue ends flights to Long Beach in West Coast realignment

Southwest's slot haul in Long Beach will catapult it to the number one position at the airport. It already holds the top spot for passengers at four other Southern California airports: Burbank (BUR), Ontario (ONT), Orange County (SNA) and San Diego (SAN).

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The airline serves Denver (DEN), Las Vegas (LAS), Oakland (OAK), Phoenix (PHX) and Sacramento (SMF) from Long Beach currently, according to Cirium schedules. Austin (AUS) and San Jose, California (SJC) flights are due to begin in November.

Southwest could boost flight frequencies to these cities with the added slots. However, the Long Beach airport suggests that the airline may "increase its current offering of nonstop destinations."

Related: Southwest Airlines says travel picked up in August, but still expects a tough fall

“Southwest has established decades of consistency as the hometown carrier of California and soon will proudly offer more for Long Beach,” Andrew Watterson, chief commercial officer of Southwest, said in a statement. He did not provide any additional details on the carrier's plans at the airport.

Despite being smaller this winter than last, Southwest continues to add a smattering of new routes across its map. It will connect Charlotte (CLT) and Denver in December, and Norfolk (ORF) and San Diego in January. Also in December, Southwest will open its first-ever seasonal destination Steamboat Springs, Colorado (HDN) with flights to Dallas Love Field (DAL) and Denver.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Hawaiian Airlines will also serve Long Beach following JetBlue's exit. Delta and Hawaiian were offered some of JetBlue's former slots but they declined saying the "timing was not ideal," according to the city.

American flies to Phoenix, Delta to Salt Lake City (SLC) and Hawaiian to Honolulu (HNL) from Long Beach, Cirium shows.

Related: Southwest unveils Steamboat Springs routes, adds new destination during pandemic

Featured image by AFP via Getty Images