A Southwest Airlines airliner rests on a tarmac. Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines.
Just over a month after officially starting its service out of Long Beach Airport, city officials have announced that Southwest Airlines will be awarded the use of upward of three currently utilized flight slots previously allocated to the airport’s main tenant, JetBlue.
Southwest will gain temporary ownership of two to three additional flight slots to go with the four slots it was initially awarded in February, after the airport’s annual noise budget analysis found that it could increase the number of flights in and out of LGB. A release from the city said that Southwest requested the reallocation of the unused slots, and that the airport’s granting of the request will comply with the city’s noise ordinance regulations.
“We are delighted that Southwest is putting these unused slots to use at the Long Beach Airport,” said Mayor Robert Garcia in the release. “This will attract new customers and bring additional revenue to our airport.”
When the airport announced the findings of its annual noise analysis last year, it revealed that it could offer nine additional flight slots and still remain in its noise budget for the next year. Southwest put in an application for all nine slots but was awarded four, with JetBlue receiving three and Delta getting the remaining two slots.
The airline began its service in June with four daily flights between Long Beach and Oakland, a move that Southwest Senior Vice President of Network and Revenue Andrew Watterson said would better connect the Los Angeles Basin to the Bay Area for both business commuters and leisure travelers. The flights, he said, would be timed so that connecting flights out of Oakland could be utilized to travel elsewhere in the Southwest network, which includes 19 other cities in the country.
Under the city’s flight allocation resolution, slots that were allocated but not used could be temporarily reassigned to another airline. JetBlue’s apparent non-use of the slots opened the door for Southwest to claim three slots open for travel between Sunday to Friday, and two slots reserved for travel only on Saturdays. The temporary reallocation will run from September 18 through the end of the calendar year.
Watterson said last month that if the airline was able to acquire more slots, it could potentially expand the company’s itinerary out of Long Beach. Those cities could include Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix and Dallas to name a few. At the time, he said the company had a plan if either of the other two airlines awarded slots ended up not actually using them.
“I tip my hat to the city council—they put it down nicely in clear black and white, so it’s completely understood by all the airlines as far as what your obligations are and what your opportunities are,” Watterson said at the announcement ceremony held on board the Queen Mary last month. “So certainly, if no one is going to use their slots we’ll make use of them for sure.”
A spokesman for the airline said that, as of today, it had yet to hammer out concrete details of where those additional slots will fly. Interim Airport Director Juan Lopez-Rios said that this sort of arrangement is more typical of cargo operators but not unheard of for commercial outfits like Southwest.
“Cargo carriers more commonly use the process outlined in the Flight Allocation Resolution to accommodate the busy holiday shipping season in November and December,” López-Rios said. “However, the commercial passenger carriers have also utilized unused flight slots to temporarily augment their service in the past.”
As for how temporary this slot allocation could be, the city’s release said that it would contingent on monthly reporting provided by all carriers which must submit 180-day outlooks to help determine temporary flight slot availability. The operation of those slots must also keep the airport in line with all provisions of the noise ordinance which allows for a total of 50 flight slots.