Fresno Waited Years for this Airline to Arrive

Dec. 17, 2020

Dec. 16—It was great to learn Wednesday that Southwest Airlines will start flying out of Fresno Yosemite International Airport next spring.

Having Southwest add Fresno to its network of cities in California is, in the words of FYI aviation director Kevin Meikle, "a game changer."

"It just offers a significant option for people to travel in and out of our airport," he said, noting loyal Southwest customers who live in the central San Joaquin Valley will no longer have to go to Southern California or the Bay Area for flights.

Hit to travel

The news came in a year when the coronavirus pandemic has created havoc in the travel industry. The entry of Southwest Airlines to Fresno will be a major economic boost to airport operations that have been hammered by the virus-caused disruption.

From February 2019 through this past February, FYI had 2 million total passengers, which is a strong total. But then in March the pandemic began. So for this year through November, the airport's passenger count was off by 40 percent. That is better than other airports in California, notably San Francisco, which was at only 20 percent of normal.

But no operation dependent on earning revenues, be it a private business or government enterprise like FYI, can go too long without a turnaround.

Besides the boost to business and leisure travel, another way Southwest can benefit the city is by helping deliver conference events. City spokesman Mark Standriff noted that the local conference and visitors bureau sometimes has difficulty luring out-of-area groups to hold their gatherings here because of a shortage of good airline connections. Southwest will expand those options.

Southwest is the nation's top domestic airline. The Dallas-based carrier said that in 2019 it operated more than 4,000 weekday departures from 101 destinations in the United States and 10 countries.

Southwest's low fares

Southwest said it was pleased to offer its low fares to passengers from the Central Valley, and certainly, having cheaper travel options will be a huge benefit to the region, given its wage base is lower than state and national averages.

Wednesday's news was trumpeted by outgoing Mayor Lee Brand and Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer.

"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 Brand.

Said Dyer: "Landing Southwest Airlines is a game changer for Fresno in terms of economic development, as well as flexibility and convenience for leisure travel. I look forward to continuing our discussions with Southwest Airlines officials as destination airports are finalized."

Meikle said Southwest has not yet determined the destinations it will fly to from Fresno, but that such news will come early next year.

That's fine. The announcement of Southwest's arrival is enough for now. Given that FYI officials have worked for years to land the carrier, it is indeed a sweet holiday treat.


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