- February 26, 2021
Southwest Airlines Co. plans to expand its Florida service by adding flights at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport in the first quarter of 2021 — a major win for the pandemic-battered airport.
Sarasota will be the carrier’s 10th airport served in Florida. Service details, including the initial flight schedule and fares will be announced soon, according to a press release.
In an interview with the Business Observer, Sarasota Bradenton International Airport President and CEO Rick Piccolo says he expects Southwest to release information about the cities it will serve next week along with information about its fares and schedule. Piccolo says he expects flights to start in late January or early February.
The addition of Southwest could result in many more passengers coming through the airport, he adds. "It means that our recovery will continue to go very quickly," he says. "Certainly in calendar year 2021 we could be right back to our pre-pandemic levels or better."
Southwest flights could also impact Sarasota and Manatee counties more broadly. Travelers will patronize restaurants, shops and hotels, says Piccolo, helping pandemic recovery efforts across the region. "It’s a great shot in the arm for the entire community," he says.
Behind Southwest's decision to come to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport are likely several factors. Among them, Piccolo says, is SRQ is recovering better than some other airports during the coronavirus. He points to recent passenger traffic data that says traffic climbed to 69% of the airport's 2019 level during October.
The Sarasota area is also a leisure destination with several outdoor activities that allow people to social distance, making it a more popular destination during the ongoing pandemic, according to Piccolo.
Another factor? The airport's financial picture. "From a financial standpoint, we offered a lot of stability with no debt," says Piccolo. Plus, SRQ lowered rates for airlines in fiscal year 2021. "I think that was also very helpful in our discussions with them," he says.
SRQ pursued Southwest, talking with the company on a regular basis and reaching out specifically after the airline decided to serve Miami, where it will begin service on Nov. 15. Ahead of he announcement, Piccolo says Southwest visited SRQ four times over the course of a month.
“Our customers who choose SRQ will land closer to their preferred beaches and business meetings, benefiting from our added investment in the growing region between our longtime cities of Tampa Bay and Ft. Myers,” says Southwest Airlines Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality Steve Goldberg in the statement. “Locals who fly Southwest can also pair their preferred airline and airport, and get in the air faster with a shorter drive to SRQ.”
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. is in its 50th year, with a customer base that topped 130 million passengers in 2019, according to the statement. In peak travel seasons during 2019, Southwest operated more than 4,000 weekday departures among a network of 101 destinations in the U.S. and 10 additional countries.
In 2021, Southwest will add service at Chicago's O’Hare on Feb. 14 and Colorado Springs on March 11. It has also announced intended service next year at Houston (Bush Intercontinental); Savannah, Ga.; and Jackson, Miss.
Southwest is the 10th airline serving SRQ. Other airlines are Air Canada, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Elite Airways, Frontier Airlines, jetBlue Airways, Sun Country Airlines and United Airlines.
“We are thrilled to welcome Southwest Airlines to the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ)," says Piccolo in the statement. "This is especially significant during these challenging times in aviation."