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Major Airline Adds Santa Barbara County Service; Tourism Officials Call It A "Game Changer" For Region

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(KCLU photo)
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Southwest Airlines stated new service to Santa Barbara Airport Monday

Southwest Airlines offering non-stop service from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, Denver, Oakland

You couldn’t ask for more fanfare for the arrival of an airline flight. Water cannons from fire trucks saluted the arrival of a Southwest Airlines plane from Las Vegas at Santa Barbara Airport, officially launching the start of service to the community.

Santa Barbara Airport Director Henry Thompson says Southwest’s arrival is a big deal for the community, because it will challenge other airlines to be more competitive in price and service.

A big crowd of community leaders were on hand to greet the first Southwest passengers, complete with cookies and goodie bags. Mark and Lisa Tennor of Las Vegas flew to Santa Barbara for a vacation. They say it was great to have a non-stop flight available.

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Tourism officials hope the arrival of Southwest will help make the region more accessible, and more attractive to tourists like the Tennors.

Kathy Janega-Dykes is the President, and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, the group which promotes conventions and tourism in the region. She says they've been trying to get Southwest to start serving the airport for five years. She believes the low cost, and strong Southwest network will boost the region's tourism and convention business.

In a surprising twist, while COVID-19 has impacted the region’s tourism, it actually helped set the stage for Southwest to come to Santa Barbara.

Andrew Watterson is Southwest’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. He says they have looked at the Santa Barbara market for years, but didn't have the planes. But, with the pandemic cutting deep into business travel, they were able to repurpose some of their aircraft to add service to Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, and some other markets.

Lisa Barrigan of Santa Barbara is preparing to board the first outbound Southwest Airlines flight. She’s headed to Las Vegas to see relatives. Barrigan says in the past, they had to go to Santa Maria or Burbank to catch a flight to Vegas.

The pandemic has took a big chunk out of airline service. Last year’s losses were estimated to be in the $35 billion dollar range. But, flights are picking up. Thompson says they've been seeing a steady uptick the last few weeks, and Southwest will add to it.