Southwest Business Vice President David Harvey addresses corporate travel managers just off the tarmac during a tour of Long Beach Airport, Thursday, May 20, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Passenger traffic through Long Beach Airport continues to make gains each month spurred by leisure travel. But as California and other states continue to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, Southwest Airlines has set its sights on bringing more business travel to the municipal airport.

During April, 160,969 passengers arrived at or departed from Long Beach, which is 45.8% less than in April 2019. While there is still a long way to go before reaching pre-pandemic numbers, the figure marks a staggering 2,455.5% increase in passenger traffic compared to April 2020 when 6,299 people passed through the facility.

“There is a demand out there, people are anxious and getting ready to travel again,” said Airport Director Cynthia Guidry. “Business travel is huge, it’s significant for us. Certainly it’s going to take a little bit longer than leisure travel but we’re optimistic.”

To that end, Southwest recently invited business representatives from across the region to tour Long Beach Airport from curb to gate. David Harvey, vice president of Southwest Business, was on hand to lead the tour along with Clifton Buford, Southwest’s Long Beach station manager.

Among the businesses represented on the tour were Kaiser Permanente, Snapchat, Northrop Grumman, Masimo, Western Dental, Amada America, Technologent, OSI Systems and Emser Tile. Sean Parham, Snapchat’s global travel manager, said the company’s employees are more dispersed now than ever before thanks to work-from-home options brought on by the pandemic.

“We have people everywhere, so it’s not just about LAX for us anymore,” Parham said of the Santa Monica-based company. “We can have people fly pretty much from anywhere and with Southwest having so many flights now out of Long Beach, it has become a more viable option.”

June marks the five-year anniversary of Southwest coming to Long Beach. The carrier began with just four flight slots at the noise-controlled airport but has increased its daily offerings to 34 direct flights to more than a dozen cities across the country.

Long Beach Airport Director Cynthia Guidry addresses corporate travel managers from numerous Southern California companies during a tour hosted by Southwest, Thursday, May 20, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Southwest flies out of LAX and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, which are 20.9 and 21.4 miles away from Long Beach Airport, respectively. While those markets may seem close, Harvey noted that Southern California traffic makes the company’s Long Beach presence crucial.

During the tour, Guidry spoke to the group about the airport’s terminal improvement project, which includes new ticketing and checked baggage inspection buildings among other changes. Already underway but delayed due to the pandemic, the project is the second phase of a masterplan that already has introduced updated concourses.

“It’s beautiful. It’s open—it reminds me of Honolulu International Airport,” said Amada Travel Manager Laurie Miyake. The machine manufacturing business is located in Buena Park and frequently flies to more than half a dozen destinations served by Southwest out of Long Beach, Miyake said.

Much of Amada’s staff lives in Orange County, making the trek to LAX for business travel uninviting, Miyake said. “Long Beach will be a big option for us,” she said. “We’re really excited.”

Since beginning service in the state nearly 40 years ago, Harvey said Southwest has expanded operations into 13 California cities, including the recent additions of Palm Springs, Fresno and Santa Barbara.

Even with the pandemic waning, uncertainty continues to cloud travel, particularly for businesses, Harvey said. As companies consider sending their road warriors back out into the world, Harvey said Southwest’s no-change-fee policy is ideal for ever-shifting itineraries and another incentive to make Long Beach the airport of choice.

“People want convenience,” Harvey said. “Flexibility has inherent value and they want to go to the airport that’s closer to their business or their home.”