United Airlines will discontinue its service out of Santa Barbara Airport on Nov. 1, slashing the number of seats available daily to San Francisco almost in half.
Skywest Airlines will begin running United Express flights out of Santa Barbara as part of a partnership with United. United Express will continue flights between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, but instead of five flights on 120-passenger jets leaving the airport daily, only four daily flights on the more cost-effective 50-passenger jets will be available.
For students heading home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, reservations might be more difficult.
“It’s going to be heavily booked,” Santa Barbara Airport Public Information Officer Terri Gibson said. “This week business is picking up, and that should continue, providing that there are no longer any more incidents out there. People would have to book now [for Thanksgiving and Christmas flights].”
Gibson said she is optimistic that the loss of United service will be sufficiently mitigated by its contract with Skywest Airlines, which aims to provide a high quality replacement service.
“It should be a seamless transition,” Gibson said. “I think it’s important to understand that the only thing that is going to change is that the service to San Francisco will become United Express instead of United Airlines.”
United claims it was forced to cut back its service and lay off thousands of employees because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which have lowered interest in air travel and cost the airline industry millions. United has flown out of Santa Barbara for nearly 65 years.
“The terrorist attacks have severely depressed passenger demand, and this has caused us to take steps that have resulted in the furloughing of 200,000 employees across the country and reduction of flights that will be up round 31 percent of what we had September 1,” he said. “[Discontinuing flights out of Santa Barbara was] a difficult decision, but we’re pleased that United Express will succeed us and maintain the continuity of service for Santa Barbara residents.”
Sophomore environmental studies major Gillian Andres, who flies home to Napa several times a year, said she will be seriously inconvenienced by the smaller planes with fewer seats.
“It sucks because I don’t have a car and [the San Francisco-bound flights] were my only way to get home. I already have a ticket to go home at Thanksgiving and now I don’t know if it’s at the same time or the same day,” she said. “They’re not going to be able to let nearly as many people on the planes as they used to, so I don’t see how they think it won’t be a problem. All I know is I have my ticket [for the Thanksgiving flight], and I’m not spending Thanksgiving in I.V.”
Gibson said the crippling of the airline industry would not stifle the airport’s long-range plans for expansion.
“We’re still going on with the plan of expansion,” she said. “It is fortunate that the airport is in the initial stages of project development to the terminal building, so new advances in security can be incorporated into the design as they occur.”