Mayor Robert Garcia (right) and Southwest Senior Vice President of Network and Revenue Andrew Watterson announcing the airline's itinerary atop the Queen Mary. Photo: Jason Ruiz
A press conference set on the sun deck of the Queen Mary served as the official ushering in of Southwest Airlines’ service to and from Long Beach Airport. With a sun-drenched downtown Long Beach serving as the backdrop, Mayor Robert Garcia and Southwest Senior Vice President of Network And Revenue Andrew Watterson made official the details of the airline's operations, which will begin June 5.
Starting that day, Southwest will fly four daily flights between Long Beach Airport (LGB) and Oakland International Airport, a move that Watterson said he believes will meet the needs of business travelers in both the Los Angeles Basin and the Bay Area, as well as others flying simply for leisure.
“These new flights to Oakland will be timed so they’re convenient for business travelers for day trips to the Bay Area, but also be timed for convenient connectivity to 19 other cities within the southwest network like The Pacific Northwest, the Rockies, the Plains States and even some of the East Coast as well,” Watterson said.
Watterson also announced that the airline would be selling tickets starting today for a special introductory price of $49 one-way through April 11, with the tickets being good for travel from June 5 through November 4. With the addition of Southwest, Long Beach becomes the fifth airport in the region, 10th in the state and the 98th city overall serviced by the airline.
Southwest was granted four slots at LGB after the airport’s annual noise budget analysis concluded that nine additional slots needed to be offered in order for the city to remain compliant with its noise ordinance. The surplus was attributed in part to a decline in airport activity, but also to a proliferation of quieter jet engines throughout the industry.
Last month, it was announced that Southwest (four slots), JetBlue (three slots) and Delta Airlines (two slots) were the airlines that were awarded the additional slots.
Mayor Robert Garcia lauded the work of the airport commissioners, the city staff and the city attorney’s office for their tireless work in overseeing both the processes that led to this point. He called the partnership with Southwest an exciting new friendship that will bring the world’s largest low-cost carrier to LGB.
“As someone who has flown Southwest often, I can tell you that they have terrific customer service, we all know about their affordable airfares and we’re incredibly excited to have this level of corporate citizen now involved with our city,” Garcia said. “They really make a perfect addition to the Long Beach Airport and of course to Long Beach.”
The desire to develop a foothold in Long Beach has been something that the airline has eyed for some time, Watterson said. He noted its role in the region and the customers that live in the city that currently have to travel to surrounding airports like LAX as reasons they felt Long Beach would be a successful partnership for Southwest.
“For us, it’s a key part of the LA basin and so people who live in Long Beach and are customers we could see that they travel to other airports to fly us and we wanted to be able to give them accommodations to fly closer to home as well as fly from other airports,” Watterson said. “We are the largest airline in the LA basin and the State of California and giving more convenient airports, that’s our business plan. We don’t concentrate on one huge airport, we like to have as many flights as we can at neighborhood airports if you will.”
The four flights to Oakland with a capacity of 143 persons per flight have the potential to move about 1,100 people per day between the Bay Area and Long Beach. Plans to expand outside that itinerary will depend on what happens with the additional flight slots at LGB.
Southwest put in for all nine slots when the noise budget analysis prompted the city to offer them but Watterson said the awarding of just four slots forced the company to make a business decision that made the most sense. More slots for Southwest could mean flights to Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas or other cities the airline believes would be a good marriage for Long Beach but those expansions remain contingent on what happens with JetBlue as Delta has already announced plans to fly its two slots.
When the slots were awarded they came with the stipulation that the airlines awarded the slots must make tickets for sale within a 90-day window and that they must commence operations at the airport within 180 days. If JetBlue ends up not using its slots, Watterson said if they were made available, Southwest would like to have 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. “So certainly, if no one is going to use their slots we’ll make use of them for sure.”