Sacramentans looking for an easy route to the Big Easy or family-friendly flights to Disney World and the beaches of Baja are getting their wish.
Southwest Airlines, Sacramento’s dominant air carrier, will add 23 nonstop flights per week next spring from Sacramento to five new cities: New Orleans, Orlando, St. Louis, Austin and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. The flights will begin over the course of several months next spring.
It’s the biggest flight-increase announcement in decades for the capital city, and brings the total number of new announced Southwest flights per week to 44 this year, counting 21 weekly flights to Long Beach and Spokane unveiled in April. Those flights started service earlier this month.
“The California economy is strong, and the Sacramento economy is strong,” Andrew Watterson, a Southwest vice president, said recently. “People are traveling more, so we are responding.”
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Sacramento International Airport officials say they are elated. They knew something was coming, but said this is bigger and faster than expected.
“This far exceeded my expectations,” said Mark Haneke, Sacramento airport air service manager. “This is checking off the boxes.”
Sacramento this year became the 16th busiest airport in Southwest’s 100-city service base. Southwest is Sacramento’s largest carrier, providing more than half of the airport’s daily flights.
“We are starting to get into the big leagues with Southwest,” Haneke said.
The new, non-stop flights include:
▪ Cabo San Lucas – a single Saturday flight each week year-round begins on March 10, 2018, to this resort area on the southern tip of Baja California in Mexico;
▪ New Orleans – a single Sunday flight each week year-round begins March 11;
▪ Austin – daily flights begin April 8;
▪ St. Louis – daily flights begin April 8;
▪ Orlando – daily flights begin May 6.
The Southwest announcements come a few months after competitor Alaska Airlines purchased California-based Virgin America, making it the second-largest California carrier behind Southwest and signaling increased competition between the two airlines in California.
“Our goal from the very beginning of this merger was to become the go-to airline for people on the West Coast,” Alaska head Brad Tilden recently wrote on that airline’s website.
For their part, Southwest executives point out that they have long been the dominant air carrier in California. The new announcements show that commitment, they said. Southwest officials also announced on Monday they are adding flights at San Jose and San Diego airports.
“Our competitors have come and gone over the last three decades, but Southwest has never fallen out of love with California,” said Leah Koontz, lead executive for Southwest in California.
Haneke of Sacramento airport said the increased flights and airline competition should result in better-priced fares over time. The Sacramento airport is on a three-year upswing, topping 10 million passengers last year for the first time since 2007, before the recession.
Alaska, the fifth-largest carrier in Sacramento, recently announced three daily flights between Sacramento and San Diego, as well as seasonal flights to Cabo San Lucas, beginning in June.
Southwest’s announced flight to Cabo is its first international flight from Sacramento, and puts it in direct competition with Alaska on that route. Sacramento airport’s Haneke said he believes there is enough flier demand for both airlines to succeed with flights between the two cities.
Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly, a publication covering the commercial airline industry, said continued low fuel prices and the growing California economy are emboldening airlines to be more assertive on route expansions.
Southwest added daily flights to Baltimore and new service to Boise last year, and added daily nonstop flights last month to Salt Lake City.
Haneke said the Austin flight will create more cross-pollination between two state capital cities that share music and food interests. The Orlando flights, which likely will have a family-friendly 1:30 p.m. takeoff time, will serve leisure travelers, but business travel as well. The flights to St. Louis will give Sacramento travelers another connecting point for flights to the East Coast.