Southwest Airlines added two new dots to its route map Tuesday in Florida and Montana, states increasingly popular during pandemic times.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines will start flying to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport in the Florida Panhandle on May 6, giving access to the Florida Gulf Coast and nearby beach destinations Panama City and Pensacola.
Then the carrier will start flying to Bozeman, Mont., on May 27, another spot that has gained traction as consumers seek outdoor vacation spots to continue social distancing efforts. Yellowstone National Park is about 90 miles from the Bozeman airport.
Tickets for those locations went on sale today, with one-way fares as low as $39.
“We’re adding another destination in the West, our first in Montana, and bringing additional access to the beaches of northwest Florida just as winter-weary families begin to dream of warm summer escapes in wide-open places,” said a statement from Andrew Watterson, the company’s chief commercial officer. “Our arrival in these communities with daily service also ushers a new flexibility and everyday affordability for local travelers flying Southwest for fun, family, or work.”
Southwest will fly directly from Dallas Love Field to Fort Walton Beach with daily service. It will also fly to Fort Walton Beach from Chicago Midway, Baltimore and Nashville.
To get to Bozeman, North Texas passengers will have to pass through either Denver or Las Vegas.
Southwest has now added 16 new destinations since the beginning of 2020. That includes a mix of vacation spots such as Cozumel, Mexico, and Palm Springs, Calif., along with urban airports such as Miami, Houston Intercontinental and Chicago O’Hare.
CEO Gary Kelly has said the expansion is part of the carrier’s efforts to broaden its reach while flying continues to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airlines are trying to position themselves for a hopefully more robust flying season after more than a year of depressed travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. airline recovery has been stalled for months.
Transportation Security Administration statistics show that airport passenger traffic is down nearly 60% compared with two years ago. Most airlines continue to operate with planes only about half full, according to trade group Airlines for America.
Still, summer could see an uptick due to pent-up demand and a growing percentage of the population receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. With a large number of travel restrictions on U.S. and global travel, analysts say flying within the U.S. will have to sustain airlines for many months to come.