Southwest Airlines expands again, adds 2 more new cities
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.
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.”
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 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.
Contributing: Edward Russell, TPG. Featured photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.