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As Pandemic Winds Down, Airlines Add New Service At San Diego International Airport

Southwest Airlines planes sit at the gate at San Diego International Airport ...

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Above: Southwest Airlines planes sit at the gate at San Diego International Airport on June 3, 2021.

It’s starting to look a lot more like 2019 at San Diego International Airport these days.

Arrivals and departures are rebounding to their pre-pandemic levels. But the third busiest airport in California did not escape the darkest days of the pandemic. A good way to look at that is by comparing April of 2019’s numbers to April of last year.

“Last year in April of 2020 we were down 95%," Airport spokesperson Sabrina LoPiccolo told KPBS.

We’re still not back to where we were before COVID hit, but LoPiccolo said we’re getting there.

“Currently we are down 38% if looking at the 2019 numbers," LoPiccolo said.

The ground lost during the pandemic is being made up partly by airlines adding new service to San Diego. Take Allegiant Air for example.

RELATED: Banking On Busy Summer Travel Season, Airlines Add More Flights And New Routes

“We started today to Bozeman, Montana. We know they’re going to be people that live in Montana that can’t wait to get to the beach in San Diego. And we also know that there’s gonna be San Diego residents that have been locked down in the pandemic that would love to go see some national parks," said Allegiant spokesperson Hilarie Grey.

Allegiant will also launch a non-stop to Des Moines, Iowa beginning in July.

Southwest continues to be the dominant carrier in San Diego with the most flights. It’s launching new non-stop service to Maui beginning this weekend, and they’re adding another daily flight to Honolulu.

But Alaska Airlines now serves the most destinations of any airline in San Diego. That includes the recent addition of New York's JFK.

“There’s great demand both to San Diego and from San Diego, and we see an opening for a carrier like Alaska to come in and to make sure there’s nonstop service to all the places people want to come from and go to," said Alaska Airlines spokesperson Brett Catlin.

Like some of their competitors, Alaska has done something that might seem counterintuitive: They’ve added routes during the pandemic. But Brett Catlin said Alaska is thinking about the long-term picture.

“These may not be markets that turn a profit immediately, but we see long term potential and it was a great time to invest and to rethink about how we want to serve the community," Catlin said.

It’s thinking like that that’s very reassuring to the people that run this airport, an airport that anticipates beginning construction on a major project next year: a replacement for the aging terminal one.

“We do anticipate eventually getting up to pre-pandemic numbers and even more passengers than that, so this is really planning for the future," said LoPiccolo.

A future that, despite its space constraints and single runway, looks to be a bright spot for post-pandemic San Diego.

Video by Roland Lizarondo


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John Carroll
General Assignment Reporter & Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI'm a general assignment reporter and Saturday morning radio anchor for KPBS. I love coming up with story ideas that aren't being covered elsewhere, but I'm also ready to cover the breaking news of the day. In addition, I bring you the local news headlines on Saturday mornings during NPR's Weekend Edition.

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