Is San Antonio big enough to support daily nonstop flights to Los Angeles on all four of the major U.S. carriers? The answer is yes, according to the airlines, which make a science of measuring market activity before scheduling new flights. It won't take long to find out if they are right. American Airlines starts daily nonstop service on Oct. 2, operating as U.S. Airways Express, and Delta Airlines has announced it will follow with its own daily service starting April 7.
News of the expanded service to LAX comes less than three weeks after the Rivard Report published news of a new daily nonstop flight between San Antonio and New Orleans on Southwest Airlines set for April. Daily service will be preceded by a Saturday-only nonstop flight in March, as well as daily flights during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend this year.
For local travelers, the expanding schedule of nonstop flights out of San Antonio International Airport is welcome news. As noted later in this article, there is strong interest in nonstop service to more cities.
"LA is a big market and also a major jumping-off point for the Far East," said Barbara Prossen, the marketing and community relations director for the City of San Antonio's Aviation Department. "This is a big part of their global network. The good news is with all this competition the rates might go lower, so the consumer is the winner. That's important to us."
Airlines base their decisions on PDEW, industry jargon for Passengers Daily Each Way, a key metric used to determine market interest and to match the daily passenger traffic with aircraft offering the right number of seats.
For travelers who do not follow the industry, the ongoing merger between American Airlines and U.S. Air will be largely completed next year, leaving American, United Airlines, Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines as the remaining four major U.S. carriers.
Southwest and United, operating as Skywest, already offer daily nonstop service between San Antonio and Los Angeles.
"We fly twice daily between the international airports in San Antonio and Los Angeles," said Brad Hawkins, a Southwest spokesman. "As the largest carrier in San Antonio, one of our original cities, our whole mission is to provide the air service South Texans have come to expect and that includes Southwest’s 'Bags Fly Free.'
"Lots of good things are happening for us in San Antonio, including the addition of San Antonio to New Orleans nonstop service," Hawkins added. "In November, we convert the final AirTran international routes, bringing Southwest service to Mexico City. Look for more news about Cancún in the Spring."
Only three weeks ago, the Rivard Report published news of expanded Southwest service: San Antonio Adding Nonstop Flight to New Orleans. What City is Next?
What we learned, no surprise, is that readers share a strong desire for more nonstop flights to and from San Antonio International Airport. People dislike the time and extra cost making a connection through Dallas and Houston, and they wish more of the low-fare carriers would establish service here.
In that story, we asked readers where they most wish they could fly nonstop from San Antonio. Their first choice? Boston Logan, followed by Washington National, Miami International and New York LaGuardia. All four are East Coast destinations.
Our survey also found that travelers are dissatisfied with the infrequency of nonstop flights to these cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Denver. Interestingly, all are West or West Coast destinations.
"Washington National and Boston Logan are our top two target markets," Prossen said. "Boston is a hub only for Jet Blue, but it is very busy with people connecting from there to international flights. Washington is more of a hub for American, but you cannot fly into Washington National from outside 1,250 miles without an FAA-approved slot. That goes back to federal legislation passed by Congress intended to make all long haul and international flights go through Dulles."
Noise was a bigger issue 30 years ago, but equipment improvements have made flights to "in town airports" like Washington National more acceptable. Still, for San Antonio to win a nonstop flight to Washington National, it first needs an airline to make the application.
"We're the second largest market outside the 1,250-mile perimeter that doesn't have a slot at Washington National," Prossen said. "San Diego is the largest."
A number of readers listed Miami and Fort Lauderdale as cities that should have nonstop connections to San Antonio. Both are stepping off points for Caribbean and South American travel.
"We have no service to South Florida," Prossen said. "We've had many visits with American, which has the hub there, but we've had no luck."
Low-fare airlines such as Virgin America, Spirit, and Jet Blue could be targets for city officials looking to expand airline service in San Antonio. Discount airliners are thriving in the San Antonio to Mexico market.
"We've been heavily marketing Mexico, all their business destinations," Prossen said. We've been very fortunate bringing in the low-fare carriers that have special packages for shoppers so they can bring home lots of luggage from shopping in San Antonio."
Prossen said the AirTran nonstop flights from San Antonio to Cancún that have been offered in the summer and fall season four times a week for the last three years will become a Southwest flight on Nov. 3, and could become a year-around offering with enough market interest.
VIVA Aerobus, a Mexico-based low-fare carrier, begins nonstop service from San Antonio to Monterrey four times week starting Nov. 24. AeroMexico and Interjet already offer service from San Antonio to Monterrey.
"Typically, the addition of nonstop service to a new city leads to a 10% increase in traffic," Prossen said. "Nonstop flights generate new interest, and they appeal to people who might have stayed home to avoid the hassle of making a connection or the added expense of a connecting flight."
*Featured/top image: Terminal A interior. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio International Airport.