SLO County airport has a new direct flight to Las Vegas — with more destinations on the way

The San Luis Obispo Regional Airport continues its rapid expansion — this time adding a direct flight to a tourism hot spot.

Contour Airlines will start flying directly four days a week to Las Vegas on October 17, with one-way tickets starting at an introductory price of $99 and going up to $200, it announced at a Wednesday press conference at the airport.

The 80-minute flights, which offer bigger-than-average legroom, will be offered Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday.

Contour, a Tennessee-based low-cost carrier, is expanding around California, recently adding a Sacramento-to-Palm Springs flight; it also operates a Sacramento-to-Santa Barbara flight.

On Wednesday, Contour CEO Matt Chaifetz hinted that the company may introduce additional destinations from the San Luis Obispo airport (SBP), saying that the company does “see potential for additional service in the future months and years.”

“This is a new market for us. SLO marks are 19th destination across the country,” Chaifetz told The Tribune. “We already serve Santa Barbara, Oakland, Crescent City and we already serve Las Vegas from Santa Barbara. We’re in the area.”

The Central Coast market, he said, can support the “luxury experience” the airline offers.

The plane that will ferry passengers from San Luis Obispo to Sin City is an Embrarer ERJ 135 that was reconfigured to provide extra legroom in every leather seat. The plane was designed to carry 37 passengers, but the airline removed seven seats.

“Once you get on board, you’ll notice every seat has 36 inches of legroom, which is equivalent to first class on other airlines,” Chaifetz said. “Our goal is to make it easy for people to travel.”

The first checked bag is free and the airline offers complimentary snacks and drinks on the flight, he said.

News of the Las Vegas flights was celebrated Wednesday morning in the ACI Jet hanger at the airport with remarks by county airport director Kevin Bumen, county Supervisor Adam Hill and Chuck Davison, president of Visit SLO Cal, the San Luis Obispo County tourism marketing organization.

They see the growth of the airport as an imperative part of the county’s future economic growth, attracting potential businesses by offering easy airline travel and bolstering the tourism industry.

“In only 30 short months, we’ve launched two new carriers, four new markets, and six new nonstop flights,” Davison said.

“This is good news,” Hill said. “We have flights going all over the place, and we fill them. People are excited to fly in and out of this airport.”

That success “has really been one of the most important economic drivers of this region,” Hill said.

The Las Vegas market in particular has been a target of Visit SLO Cal, Davison said.

“With over 2.2 million people living in the Clark County region, it provides a lot of access to us for visitors looking to come to the destination,” Davison said. “But even beyond the residents, the flight really opens up for us an additional one-stop path for access to travelers throughout the United States and around the world.”

The San Luis Obispo airport had its busiest first calendar quarter in its history in 2019, with 113,320 ticket-holding passengers flying in and out over a three-month period, the airport announced in April. That’s a 15-percent increase in 2019, and double the passenger county from five years ago.

In December 2018, the airport added flights to Dallas, a hub that connects San Luis Obispo to dozens of other destinations.

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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: mvaughan@thetribunenews.com