After giving up on its push to attract low-cost carriers about a year ago, San Francisco International Airport has recently managed to land two of the biggest names in the industry, including Southwest Airlines, which announced Friday it will take off from the airport this fall.
Southwest’s announcement that it will begin flying at least 14 flights out of SFO by early fall comes a month after JetBlue announced it plans to begin flying in May.
Southwest left SFO in 2001, primarily because of limited space and high landing fees, according to spokeswoman Marilee McInnis, but in the intervening years a lot has changed.
"Southwest is 50 percent larger than we were in 2001," McInnis said. Also, landing fees have dropped 30 percent and space is available for expansion, McInnis said.
"We kind of abandoned our effort [to recruit low-cost carriers] about a year ago," SFO spokesman Mike McCarron said.
The airport had made recruiting more low-cost carriers a priority after terrorist attacks in 2001 caused a dramatic drop in air travel, but only resulted in lackluster success, until recently. The downturn in the economy was another factor, McCarron said.
Low-cost carriers Frontier, Midwest, America West and Spirit already operate from SFO. Discount carriers will comprise 15 percent to 20 percent of SFO’s total operations once JetBlue’s five daily departures and Southwest’s 14 departures are added, McCarron said.
Additional flights at SFO won’t cut into the 76 daily departures from Mineta San Jose International, or the 142 flights out of Oakland International, McInnis said.
Flying out of SFO will add convenience for San Francisco and Peninsula residents, not to mention bring more jobs to the area, San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill said. SFO is located in unincorporated San Mateo County.
Low-cost carrier Virgin America, long delayed in its attempt to fly out of SFO, is awaiting federal Department of Transportation approval, expected in April. If approved, Virgin America hopes to begin soon after, spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said.