Long Beach Airport will begin service to seven new cities this week which includes its largest tenant, Southwest Airlines, beginning daily service to Honolulu and Maui.

Southwest is adding seven daily flights to its destination options including Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Maui, Reno and St. Louis. Hawaiian Airlines, which has flown daily to Honolulu since 2018, also will begin service to Maui’s Kahului Airport, according to a city release.

Hawaiian’s new flight to Maui will start service March 10 and Southwest’s new flights will begin daily operations March 11. Long Beach will be the only airport in the Los Angeles area that will offer service to Hawaii on Southwest.

“Our airport is a powerful economic asset for our city,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “These new flights provide valuable connectivity for both our regional residents and travelers wanting to visit Southern California.”

Travel to Hawaii still requires a negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival on the islands and the city and Hawaiian Airlines have both been testing travelers in the airport’s parking lot since January.

While many of the new flights were announced last year, the decision to begin operating them comes as the country continues its push to immunize residents against COVID-19.

Over 92 million doses have been administered in the United States and Long Beach has often been ahead of other cities, becoming the first in the state to start vaccinating persons with disabilities this week.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that he expected that California could achieve herd immunity within 100 days if the vaccine supply keeps up.

These developments have instilled positivity in the airline industry despite a continuing lag in passenger traffic, said Kate Kuykendall, a spokesperson for the airport.

“It’s definitely increased optimism in the travel industry that as vaccination rates continue to increase that people will want to get back on planes,” Kuykendall said. “But as of this point we haven’t really seen a significant change in passenger traffic.”

Last year, traffic at Long Beach Airport was decimated by the pandemic with many people avoiding air travel. Early in the pandemic passenger traffic was down as much as 98% but a surge in holiday travel propelled it to finish the year just 71% lower than 2019.

Passenger traffic for January, the most recent available data, shows that passenger traffic in 2021 is down 86% compared to January 2020. Kuykendall said that the fact that these new flights will start to be flown this week will likely result in passenger traffic increasing overall even if those new flights aren’t flying at capacity.

“To the extent that our airlines want to come back and fly the slots and utilize them we’re happy for them to do so,” Kuykendall said.

A total of 53 daily flights are allowed under the city’s noise ordinance but just 27 were being flown prior to this week. The addition of the eight new flights set to begin this week and a new service from American Airlines to Dallas scheduled to start in April the total daily flights will increase to 36.

The airport waived minimum slot usage rules—a requirement that airlines fly a certain number of times per week for each slot—last year and Kuykendall said those waivers are still in place.

Southwest, the airport’s largest tenant with 34 slots, will be flying between 24 and 27 times per day with the new flights.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.