SLO County airport adding new flights to Portland, San Diego

SLO Airport adds new San Diego and Portland flights

The SLO airport added two new Alaska Airlines daily, nonstop flights connecting San Luis Obispo, California to San Diego and San Luis Obispo to Portland, helping drive tourism and business.
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The SLO airport added two new Alaska Airlines daily, nonstop flights connecting San Luis Obispo, California to San Diego and San Luis Obispo to Portland, helping drive tourism and business.

Two more destinations will be added at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport with direct flights coming to San Diego and Portland.

Calling the news the airport’s “biggest announcement yet,” airport officials shared word of the new Alaska Airlines flights at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The San Diego flight begins in January 2020, while Portland doesn’t kick in until June 2020. Airport director Kevin Bumen said the new destinations will bring in 21 new airport jobs and $10 million in economic impact to the area.

“These are very cool destinations,” Bumen said. “This is the first time our community will ever have Portland service. This is the first time in 20 years we’ll have San Diego service. We’ve been working to add these flights for a long time.”

Tickets for future flights went on sale Wednesday afternoon, with one-way ranging from $99 for the cheapest flight to $159 for first class for San Diego. One-way tickets costs for Portland were between $149 and $219.

The nonstop flights will arrive and depart daily between about noon and 6 p.m., according to the projected schedule.

The San Luis Obispo Airport announces two new routes via Alaska Airlines to both San Diego and Portland, OR. Rachel Hamann with Dot & Cross Studio creates chalk art mural on parking lot elevator. 9-4-2019 David Middlecamp David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Those who visit and buy wine cases can carry the wine for free.

“Our goal is to have low fares so people fly instead of using their cars,” said Jeff Etherington, Alaska Airlines’ director of corporate sales. “If it doesn’t make sense to fly, people won’t, but our prices will make it affordable for them.”

Chuck Davison, CEO of the nonprofit destination marketing organization Visit SLO CAL, said that the flights are critical to help meet demand for the new hotels soon to open in SLO. And they’ll help support the county’s overall tourism, wine, and business sectors.

Davison said that about 4,000 Cal Poly applicants come from the San Diego area each year, along with about 2,000 enrolled students, and 8,000 university alumni, who could take advantage of the new San Diego flight.

In addition, he said, several businesses have offices in San Luis Obispo as well as in San Diego or Portland.

“This is a great opportunity for us to open up connectivity to the western United States, along with the ability to bring visitors here,” Davison said.

SLO County Airport and local leaders gather to announce the new flights from SLO to San Diego and SLO to Portland on Alaska Airlines. Nick Wilson

It’s the latest development in what’s been a vibrant period of growth for the airport.

The airport added a new Las Vegas flight in June, through the airline Contour, a Tennessee-based low-cost carrier.

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

And the airport added a second daily flight to Denver in 2018.

County Supervisor Adam Hill said at Wednesday’s news conference that when the economy was down, and commercial airline service was slow, enthusiasm for airport potential was dwindling.

“People somehow accepted commercial flights were going away,” Hill said. “Nobody knew what was going to happen with the airline industry.... It was a real leap of faith to make sure to continue to invest in the airport and to build this new terminal. Now, it seems like we’re here every few months to announce good news and it seems it’s working well.”

Chuck Davison of Visit SLO CAL and Kevin Bumen, county director of airports, announce the two new Alaska Airlines flights to Portland and San Diego. Nick Wilson

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.

Officials see the growth of the airport — which opened a new terminal in November 2017 — as an imperative part of the county’s future economic development, attracting potential businesses by offering easy airline travel and bolstering the tourism industry.

Along with the expansion, the airport has also received increased complaints from some residents about noise.

Since 2017, the number of yearly noise complaints the airport receives has more than tripled, according to date collected as of July.

The airport had received 934 complaints for 2019 between January and July, according to officials.

Bumen said at the new flights will be during normal business hours, avoiding early morning or late night hours.

He added that Alaska Airlines understands the concerns of some residents in the community and will do what it can to minimize noise impacts.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.