Southwest Airlines expands again, adds 2 more new cities

Dec 16, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Welcome to the Southwest Airlines network, Fresno and Santa Barbara.

Southwest continued its torrid expansion pace during the pandemic, making those cities the latest new dots on its ever-growing route map as it looks to strengthen its grip on California.

The carrier did not specify in its Wednesday announcement when it would begin flying from the cities or to where, saying only service would come during the second quarter of 2021.

With the addition of Fresno (FAT) and Santa Barbara (SBA), Southwest has now added 12 new destinations since the pandemic begin. That’s a remarkable number for the airline, which rarely adds more than two or three new cites to its map during a normal year.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

However, 2020 has been far from normal. Southwest has used the opportunity to push into new markets as many of its rivals have cut back during a dramatic drop in demand during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It allows us to play offense,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said last week during a webinar with The Wings Club of New York. He said that by plugging new destinations — even smaller ones — into the carrier’s unique network, “it really puts us in a different competitive situation compared to the rest of our airline competitors.”

Those comments mirror what Kelly told TPG during an exclusive interview in September.

“These additional dots to the map provide even more sources of revenue here at a time when we really need it,” he said then. “That’s our No. 1 challenge. We’ve cut our expenses. We’ve got more opportunities there. But the real need is, we’ve got to generate more customers and we’ve got to generate more revenues.”

TPG exclusive: Southwest CEO Gary Kelly chats about his legacy, new cities and change fees

The addition of the two California cities comes as leisure travelers — who have made up the bulk of those still flying since March — have increasingly looked to outdoor-oriented destinations that facilitate social distancing. Santa Barbara, nestled along California’s scenic Central Coast, and Fresno — near Yosemite National Park and other outdoor recreation areas — check those boxes.

It’s also an unmistakable move by Southwest to cement its position in the lucrative California market, where it will now fly from 13 cities. The carrier begin flying from Palm Springs (PSP) just last month and has ramped up its presence in Long Beach (LGB) as JetBlue – which had long been that airport’s dominant carrier – abandoned the city in favor of growing its operation at Los Angeles (LAX).

“While other airlines seem to fall in and out of love with the state, we’re focused on increasing the reach of our low fares and flexible policies in places where we expect them to make a difference,” Southwest commercial chief Andrew Watterson said in a statement announcing Fresno and Santa Barbara.

More: Southwest Airlines adds Sarasota, makes it 10 new cities in coronavirus expansion

More broadly, Southwest’s Golden State expansion comes 30 years after it first elbowed its way into the intra-California market. The carrier used the Gulf War crisis and ensuing recession to expand rapidly in the state —a move that eventually forced American Airlines and USAir (later US Airways) to retrench there.

The 10 other new destinations that Southwest has announced or added during the pandemic are: Chicago O’Hare (ORD); Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH); Jackson, Mississippi (JAN); Miami (MIA); Palm Springs; Savannah, Georgia (SAV); Sarasota, Florida (SRQ) and three destinations in Colorado: Colorado Springs (COS), Montrose (MTJ) and Steamboat Springs/Hayden (HDN).

Still, the new destinations come as Southwest – and all U.S. carriers – have reduced their overall flight schedules in response to the pandemic. Southwest anticipates being roughly a quarter smaller at the end of the year than it was in December 2019.

More: Southwest Airlines CEO says Miami push part of long-term strategy, not ‘pandemic play’

Contributing: Edward Russell, TPG. Featured photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.