On March 30, Southwest Airlines’ Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly announced plans to begin regular flights from Long Beach to Sacramento beginning August 1.


The announcement comes just over a month after American Airlines Inc. notified Long Beach Airport (LGB) officials that it would be reducing its presence by dropping two of its five allocated flight slots. The airline did not provide a reason for its decision.


Southwest’s new flights mark its first expansion at LGB since beginning operations early last year, but Kelly doesn’t believe it will be the last. “I’ve committed to the mayor that if more slots become available, we will fly them,” Kelly said during a press conference with Mayor Robert Garcia. “We’re just here to do as much as we can within the constraints that we have at the airport.”


The two daily flights to Sacramento bring Southwest’s permanent flight slot count to six, with the other four dedicated to daily flights to Oakland. The airline also currently flies to Denver and Las Vegas on a temporary basis.


Garcia said the city is thankful and grateful for the investment and interest in growth that Southwest has dedicated to Long Beach. He said the city is encouraging the company to actively grow its footprint at LGB because it understands the community.


“They get what the restraints are. They understand that we are very respectful of the community and what the noise bucket means,” Garcia said. “So everything that we are talking about is all within the constraints of the noise ordinance that we have.”


The noise ordinance at LGB is one of the strictest in the country and only allows for 50 commercial flights per day. Allowable flight slots were set at 41 but increased at the beginning of 2016 following an announcement from former Airport Director Bryan Francis that modern jets were quiet enough to add flights while maintaining the ordinance. It was this flight slot expansion that gained Southwest its initial four slots.


Garcia noted that Sacramento is an important business connector for Long Beach and said further Southwest expansion at LGB in the future could be beneficial to the city’s ever-growing tourism industry. When asked why the company did not opt for a market without current service from Long Beach, Kelly said Sacramento compliments Southwest’s other markets.


“It was very high on our list, and I think it will prove to be a very popular route,” Kelly said. “We generate a lot of flights, a lot of seats, a lot of customers. And this will be a wonderful way to serve our current customers and also win some new ones.”


Kelly noted that, in addition to its six daily flights at LGB, Southwest has 120 daily flights from Los Angeles International Airport, 60 from John Wayne Airport and around 100 from Ontario and Burbank airports combined, making it the largest airline serving Southern California.

JetBlue Airways, the airport’s largest carrier, and Delta Air Lines Inc. also expressed interest in obtaining the newly available slots. However, Southwest was allowed first pick as the newest carrier at the airport.


After the Long Beach City Council’s decision in January to not move forward with JetBlue’s request for a customs facility, which would have allowed international flights at LGB, there has been speculation that the company would lessen its presence at the airport. Garcia said there has been no communication between JetBlue and the city to indicate any change to the carrier’s presence.


JetBlue did not respond to a request for comment on how the Southwest announcement would impact its business or its future plans at LGB. JetBlue currently offers two daily flights to Sacramento.


Kelly explained that his company’s Sacramento flights, and any further expansion, would only add meaningful competition to the market and give Long Beach and surrounding area residents more options for arrivals and departures throughout Southern California.


“We’re just getting started working together, and we’ll continue to work together to see what we can do to provide more service to Long Beach,” Kelly said. “We don’t take these types of relationships for granted. We are very pleased to be wanted, and I think we have been welcomed with open arms here.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.