‘Southwest Effect’ boosts the Santa Barbara Airport

Ventura County travelers naturally think about LAX or Burbank when booking flights. There’s another viable option that’s convenient for residents of the west end of our county: Santa Barbara Airport (SBA).

Santa Barbara Airport (SBA)

This sometimes overlooked choice has a lot going for it. Close-in parking (usually ample during non-holiday periods with an overflow economy lot nearby) and efficient check-in and TSA lines. That’s nice, but what kind of service do they offer?

When I last spoke to the Airport Director at SBA in 2019 they were being served year round by four major airlines offering non-stop flights to a dozen destinations. That’s pretty close to the current offerings with one noteworthy change.

American, United, and Alaska are still offering daily flights out of Santa Barbara, but Delta is no longer calling there. The new Airport Director, Chris Hastert, reminded me that the big change since my last column on his airport is the addition of a new fourth player, Southwest Airlines. 

I’d say that is a pretty big deal. Despite Southwest’s infamous recent holiday meltdown, it is a very popular airline. More importantly for SBA, Southwest is credited with a remarkable reaction whenever they enter a new market.

Santa Barbara Airport is served by four major airlines, including its most recent addition, Southwest, which has had quite an effect on its operations. United Airlines is still the airport’s No. 1 carrier.

This well-known phenomenon within the airline industry is called the “Southwest Effect.” According to Hastert, that effect has made airfares more competitive across the board flying into and out of SBA. It wasn’t unusual for customers “to pay quite a premium” for the convenience of flying out of this regional airport in the past. Now he says airfares are “competitive with surrounding airports.”

An additional upshot of the “Southwest Effect” is to increase passenger numbers. That, too, has occurred at SBA. United is still the airport’s No. 1 most used airline with more than 450,000 passengers coming and going last year, but Southwest has quickly staked out the No. 2 position with nearly 350,000 customers.

So where can you fly from our neighboring county’s airport? There are 20 daily non-stops:

  • United: Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco
  • Southwest: Denver, Oakland, Sacramento, Las Vegas
  • American: Phoenix, Dallas
  • Alaska: Seattle, Portland

Many of those cities are airport hubs for the respective airlines. A one-stop journey could take you to hundreds of cities, including international destinations.

Old-timers may remember a time when Oxnard Airport offered commercial flights. Sadly, that’s become ancient history at this point. By contrast, I’m impressed to see Santa Barbara’s airport flourishing.

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