Southwest Airlines jets wait near gates at San Antonio International Airport.
Southwest Airlines jets wait near gates at San Antonio International Airport. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Two departures from the San Antonio International Airport jetted in opposite directions Monday, marking the first launch of Southwest Airlines’ newest nonstop flights.

The two aircraft were bound for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Oakland, California. Both inaugural flights were announced late last year. Officials with the City’s Aviation Department celebrated Monday’s inaugural flights with music, cake, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the gate.

The new flights to Oakland and Fort Lauderdale provide much-needed flight service to the Bay Area and Southeast Florida, according to an Aviation report, and will be flown on 143/175-seat Boeing 737 aircraft. Prior to this announcement, Oakland was an unserved market and Fort Lauderdale was only served on a seasonal basis. Both were 85 percent booked as of last Thursday.

Monday’s flights are two of 14 new San Antonio International Airport (SAT) routes that are being added in 2018.  But they are the first new routes for Southwest Airlines this year, though the airline has added capacity — more seats and frequencies — to several existing routes, mostly for the peak summer travel season.

Both Oakland and Fort Lauderdale were on the target list of 22 unserved or underserved markets, which made Southwest Airlines eligible for incentives under the SAT Air Service Incentive Program. Incentives are provided in the form of joint marketing and advertising for the air service. Southwest received $200,000 worth of marketing incentives for support between the November 2017 announcement and the start of service.

Russ Handy and Cat Dizon, Active Capital’s chief operations officer, cut a cake marking the addition to nonstop flights to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Oakland, California.

“Unlike other incentives that airports provide to air carriers, such as tax concessions, cash payment incentives, and others, the only incentives we provide are joint marketing and advertising dollars not to exceed $200,000,” said Rich Stinson, SAT director of strategic communications. “We are quite proud of this, as it is very nominal in comparison to the millions of dollars the airlines have invested into these routes. [Southwest] decided to add these routes based upon market demand and forecasted profitability.”

A study by Megan Ryerson published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, a quarterly research journal for planning professionals, found that 26 of 44 airports with incentive programs spent a combined $171.5 million between 2012 and the first quarter of 2015 recruiting new routes.

Southwest Airlines isn’t the only carrier expanding service in San Antonio. In May, Frontier Airlines became the largest carrier at SAT when it revealed nine new, nonstop flights beginning in August.

Those destinations include Albuquerque, New Mexico; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Oklahoma City; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Omaha, Nebraska. Eight of the nine destinations were previously unserved with direct flights from San Antonio.

The low-cost carrier also began new service to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Cincinnati; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and San Jose, California, this year.

Nearly 841,000 passengers flew through SAT in May, according to the most recent Aviation Department report, an increase of 8.2 percent over the same month last year.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.