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Souhtwest Airlines’ ticket counter. Check.

Baggage claim. Check.

Gate 17 numerical standing position signs. Check.

GVWire took a tour with Fresno Yosemite International Airport Director of Aviation Kevin Meikle and spokeswoman Vikkie Calderon on Friday morning ahead of Southwest’s official launch on Sunday. April 25.

“The ticket sales have been off the charts.” – Fresno Yosemite International Airport Director of Aviation Kevin Meikle 

Southwest Airlines employees were busy training and preparing in areas throughout the airport. One employee told GVWire the signs at the gate letting people know where to stand were went up at 4:30 a.m. Friday.

“We’ve been working with Southwest for this day that’s coming up on Sunday for a number of years,” said Meikle. “The ticket sales have been off the charts.”

The launch of service from California’s Central Valley to Denver and Las Vegas offers substantial connectivity to more than 50 airports.

“This is huge for Fresno,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer during Thursday morning’s city council meeting. “It is a game-changer for the City of Fresno — not only for leisure travel — but for business, and being able to attract business to our community.” Dyer plans to be there on Sunday morning for Southwest’s “maiden launch,” as he calls it.

The first flight leaves at 11:20 a.m. to Las Vegas.

Number stands were set up at 4:30 a.m. Friday outside Gate 17, where Southwest Airlines will operate. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

Long on Southwest’s Radar

Fresno was the largest metropolitan area in California previously not served by Southwest.

“Fresno long has been on our radar,” Southwest Airlines spokesperson Brad Hawkins told GVWire by email. He says the airline is approaching 20 years of operation in California, and the Fresno Yosemite International Airport will be the 13th airport it serves in the Golden State.

Hawkins touts the airline’s baggage policy as one of its biggest selling points.

“We let everyone check two bags for free (weight and size limitations apply) and we’ve never charged a change fee in 50 years of Southwest history,” said Hawkins.

GVWire asked him if the airline had an announcement about future routes for Fresno.

“We have a long history of this — when travel patterns illuminate a path for us to add time-saving nonstop service to address trends in travel in our (even newly) established cities, we will add service. I’m simply not able to speak to things either would be in development or unannounced,” answered Hawkins.

Gate 17 is where people board Southwest Airlines flights. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

Airline Competition Heating Up

Meikle says any time you add additional travel options, it creates healthy competition.

“That’s exactly what we’re seeing. We’re excited to see that other airlines have stepped up. They’ve added flights, they’ve added frequency and larger aircraft,” says Meikle. “Allegiant (Airlines) is going to Vegas now more than ever.”

He says an online search of flights out of Fresno reveals that airline price wars are underway.

Fresh paint on the tarmac shows where Southwest Airlines will park. Note the “737” in the photo. (GV Wire/Jim Jakobs)

Parking Structure & Future Plans

The first thing many travelers may notice, especially if they haven’t flown in a while, is the large new parking structure out in front.

“This 917 spot four-level parking structure is going to open up in October,” says Meikle. He says the parking “pinch point” will be alleviated by the end of the year.

He says the longer-term project of a new terminal will break ground in early 2022 and will take a couple of years for completion.

Another project well into the future would include linking FAX bus service to a High-Speed Rail station in downtown Fresno.

“I anticipate that when High-Speed Rail does come online, that we will have that direct and convenient connectivity,” said Meikle.

Pandemic Recovery

The airport director said that Fresno’s passenger volume hits or eclipses pre-pandemic levels some days — even before Southwest’s launch.

“We are really recovering that quickly. The majority of it is leisure travel,” Meikle said. “People just need to get out, see their family, see their friends.”

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