Despite announcing an unheard of 10 new destinations this year, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly last week teased that more were on the way.
Travelers didn't have to wait long.
On Wednesday, Southwest said it will add flights to Santa Barbara and Fresno, California, next spring. The nation's largest domestic airline is already a dominant player in California, and with the new cities, it will serve 13 airports there. The most recent addition: Palm Springs, in November.
“Our arrival in the heart of California, both on the Central Coast and in the Central Valley, will round out nearly four decades of investment in our California customers and communities,” Southwest Airlines Chief Commercial Officer & Executive Vice President Andrew Watterson said in a statement.
Southwest did not announce routes or start dates for the new cities beyond saying service will begin in the second quarter of 2021. The airline will have competition in Santa Barbara and Fresno, the extent of which won't be known until it announces routes. Alaska, American, and United are among the airlines serving Santa Barbara Airport , with Frontier and Delta dropping service during the pandemic. At Fresno Yosemite International Airport, airlines include Allegiant, Frontier, Delta, American and United.
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— Fresno Yosemite International Airport (@FresnoAirport) December 16, 2020
Southwest usually adds a city or two a year, if that, and its service is coveted by airports across the country. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the airline only planned to add Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport to its route map, Kelly said in an interview. (It did announce service to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in February before the pandemic was declared.)
The pandemic crushed travel demand and changed things dramatically for Southwest and its competitors. All have been adding a flurry of flights to destinations popular with vacationers and travelers visiting friends and relatives, because leisure travelers have returned before business travelers. Frontier Airlines announced a flurry of new flights to Las Vegas Tuesday, for example.
Kelly said the cost of adding flights is marginal because Southwest already has the planes and workers to operate them.
"Hundreds of (Southwest's Boeing 737s) are unnecessary right now, so we're paying for them and they're just sitting there,'' he said. "We have wonderful people and they just don't have enough customers to serve right now.''
Kelly insists the new destinations were all on its new-service wish list and will outlast the pandemic.
"We're not doing this only in a pandemic,'' he said in The Wings Club interview with the Wall Street Journal's Scott McCartney. "These are permanent additions to our route system.''
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Southwest Airlines woos pandemic vacationers, adds California flights