The news quickly spread on social media after Southwest Airlines announced they would start service out of Fresno Yosemite International Airport in the spring of 2021.
“Landing Southwest Airlines is a game changer for Fresno in terms of economic development, as well as flexibility and convenience for leisure travel,” said Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer in a news release issued Wednesday morning. “I look forward to continuing our discussion with Southwest Airlines officials as destination airports are finalized.”
Yay! We are so happy to hear this, David and we look forward to welcoming you onboard soon! ?
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) December 16, 2020
Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger said Southwest Airlines representatives met with him and other community leaders in November. “They looked at a region with 1-million people and the largest airport between San Francisco and LA, and the fact that we serve the 5th largest city in the state,” Bessinger said. “They certainly wouldn’t do it if they didn’t crunch the numbers and say ‘yes’ we can make this work.”
Bessinger also serves as police chief at the Fresno airport.
“This is the best holiday present that Fresno could have imagined. Local travelers have been waiting patiently for quite some time for this announcement and Southwest service has been, by far, the most talked-about and requested amenity in the Central Valley,” said Mayor Lee Brand in a statement.
Fresno City Council Member Mike Karbassi shared the news on his Facebook page. “Terrific news for our city and region. Welcome to Fresno, Southwest Airlines. Great job airport staff including Director Kevin Meikle!”
“Great news to end the 2020! Looking forward to taking @SouthwestAir flight in 2021,” tweeted City Council Member Esmeralda Soria.
“Access to all areas of the country through Southwest’s network will open up business opportunities that were unavailable to us previously,” said Lee Ann Eager, CEO of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation. “This is exciting news that lets the world know that Fresno County is open for business and ready to “take off”.”
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly wasn’t shy when he spoke with Reuters recently about his airline’s future. The company plans to continue adding new markets to its network after announcing new destinations during the pandemic.
Wednesday morning, the airline not only announced service out of Fresno, but said it will also fly in and out of Santa Barbara Airport.
“Landing Southwest Airlines is a game changer for Fresno in terms of economic development, as well as flexibility and convenience for leisure travel.”–Incoming Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer
“We salute Southwest’s bold decision to enter one of the most vibrant and beautiful regions in California, bringing visitors to our sweeping coastline to experience our mild Mediterranean climate and distinctive Spanish-influenced architecture,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo. “For our residents, our partnership with Southwest will energize the economic rebound to come in 2021.”
Kevin Meikle, Director of Aviation for Fresno Yosemite International Airport spoke with reporters during a virtual news conference Wednesday morning. He says the Fresno market is the largest market to go to Hawaii that does not have a direct flight from the West Coast.
Meikle doesn’t know for certain what Southwest’s routes will be. But, he says when things return to a more normal state after the pandemic it’s a distinct possibility there will be flights from the Central Valley to the island state.
“They’re (Southwest Airlines is) aware of what our market is to Hawaii. And so I think it’s a natural fit and we will continue to have that discussion with them,” explained Meikle.
During the November meeting with Southwest representatives, Eager and Fresno CEO Chamber President Nathan Ahle were both asked where they’d like to fly to.
“Nathan was Las Vegas and I was Hawaii,” said Eager.
Frequency and Fares
“Southwest, when they come into a market, it is multiple flights every single day to multiple destinations,” said Meikle. He expects that to be the case here in Fresno.
He says looking at some of the other airports they’ve recently added to their routes, they’re already scheduling anywhere from 5 to 13 flights a day. Meikle says, “We absolutely look forward to that information in January. I anticipate it will be multiple flights a day, seven days a week.”
The cost of tickets was not a part of the November discussion. Meikle believes what’s going to happen is when Southwest arrives with their low fare schedule will send reverberations through the other airlines already at the airport.
“It’s going to really help drive some competition with our other carriers,” projects Meikle. “The best thing we can do is foster competition, and that’s exactly what this will do.”
Dozens of people welcomed the news by replying to Facebook posts about the announcement.
The Fresno Yosemite International Airport Facebook page lit up with positive reaction.
Erika Lopez wrote, “Awesome! Congratulations FYI team! Can’t wait to travel again!”
“This is exciting news. Congratulations to the FYI team! Welcome Southwest Airlines,” wrote Lupe Perez.
Southwest coming to Fresno is the best news I’ve heard in a while.
— Michael (@michaelkwootten) December 16, 2020
Of course, it took a goofy year like 2020 to get Fresno on the Southwest route map. Whatever – ill take it. No more drives through the tule fog if they have a ton of California flights!
— George J. Andrews (@gjandrews) December 16, 2020
Excellent! This could be a game changer in the cost of travel to and from Fresno! Conference expenses and personal travel will be much more manageable.
— Dr Quentin (my wife is also Dr Kinnison) Kinnison (@qpkinnison) December 16, 2020
Fresno Airport Terminal Expansion
“We’re planning a terminal expansion,” Meikle recently told GV Wire℠. “It’s going to be three years because it takes two years to build it. And as the recovery continues on the path that it has been for our airport, we anticipate pulling the trigger on that one early next fall.”
Meikle says a number of additional components are included:
— A new upper level concourse in the existing terminal with dual-use passenger bridges.
— A new international arrivals facility to accommodate the growing volume of passenger arrivals.
— Expanded outbound baggage facilities.
— An expanded security checkpoint.
— Added tenant and concession spaces.
Pandemic Effects That Could Benefit Fresno
“The airlines are starting to do things that they perhaps would have never thought of doing before the pandemic,” explains Meikle.
He says the pandemic is actually providing an opportunity for airlines to rethink their route structure, rethink where they go, flight frequency, and type and size of aircraft. These include, “airlines like Southwest or like, for example, a Spirit or Sun Country or others that we talk to,” says Meikle.
Prior to COVID, Southwest was doing some planning in the Caribbean and Mexico.
Now, Meikle says the airlines are working to capitalize on how they can come out of COVID-19 better than where they were before the pandemic.
Other Airlines Making Moves
The pandemic isn’t just shifting the business model for Southwest Airlines. Other airlines are making moves at Fresno’s Airport now and likely in the immediate future, Meikle said.
For instance, Frontier Airlines has increased the frequency of its departures to Denver from Fresno.
Also, before the pandemic, Meikle said Alaska Airlines was planning on using some of their narrow bodied aircraft for their busier routes into Seattle. That thinking has now shifted and the airline is looking at using a bigger 737 to go from Fresno to Seattle.
“Now we’re hearing it’s possible sometime in 2021 we could actually see that happening,” says Meikle.
Another example is American Airlines and their Dallas route. Before the pandemic they were hovering around 3 flights a day.
“They’re up to four a day,” said Meikle.