American Airlines to add flights from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth

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American Airlines, the world’s largest airline, will expand its service from Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport when it begins offering direct summer flights to Dallas-Fort Worth International and Los Angeles International airports next year.

American, which has operated nonstop service from Santa Rosa to Phoenix-Sky Harbor International since February 2017, will add the daily seasonal flights to Southern California starting May 3 and to its Texas hub on June 6.

Local leaders, who continue to pursue spreading the county’s reach through the airport, were enthused by the news of the additional flights.

“We have continued to push for expanded options for Sonoma County, but not just more flights, better flights,” said James Gore, chairman of the Sonoma County supervisors. “It’s about better service and providing more connectivity and this is a great example of that.”

American’s announcement comes just four months after United Airlines said it would debut direct service to Denver International on March 8, to go along with its daily flight to San Francisco International. United, the world’s third-largest airline, touts connections for travelers to more than 145 other domestic and international cities from its hub in Denver, while American’s hub in Dallas offers more than 130 such connections.

“We are committed to providing the most choices for our customers across the U.S. and a chance to see the world,” Vasu Raja, vice president of planning for American Airlines, said in a statement about the planned summer travel service from Sonoma County airport.

Alaska Airlines already operates daily routes from Sonoma County to Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Portland and Seattle airports. Minnesota-based Sun Country offers seasonal service to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Las Vegas airports.

“As much as it’s an attraction for both business and tourism, it’s also that we are becoming a regional hub for the North Bay and the North Coast,” Gore said.

A Sonoma County airport study in 2013 quantified direct and indirect benefits of each airline route added at the airport as 70 more area jobs and $23 million yearly.

The major airlines began taking a longer look at boosting service to and from Santa Rosa after a 6,000-foot runway expansion was completed in 2014.

The $55 million project allows regional jets to land with more frequency. It is one of several upgrades to the airport, including a recently completed 900-space parking lot.

Plans are in the works to expand the airport’s 15,000-square-foot terminal by 6,000 square feet by next fall to add ticket counter space, more gate seating and a second passenger security line. The airport overall now covers about 22,000 square feet.

Also, airport officials have applied for a $20 million federal aviation grant to expand the terminal an additional 29,000 square feet to make room for more gate space, a larger ticketing area and to relocate the baggage claim, Sonoma County Airport manager Jon Stout said. Decisions on the competitive grant are expected in the spring, and if the county secures the grant, construction would start to enlarge the terminal in 2020.

In the meantime, American’s new summer airline routes, which came as a welcome surprise to local airport officials earlier this week after previously lobbying the airline for service to Dallas, will be a primary focus for the local airport. If the flights prove successful, there’s potential for them to become year-round options as well as help justify service to other cities, Stout said.

“You start with something they know will work, and if it performs, it’s something that they can continue to add,” he said. “You’ve got to make a new route work first before you go to the next.”

To help land the new American routes, Sonoma County Tourism pledged $250,000 in incentives through spending and marketing contributions in the Dallas area in the first year of service.

The airport is providing another $50,000 in local advertising during the same period, on top of waiving American’s landing and terminal fees until June 2021 — an estimated value of up to $155,000, Stout said.

On the new flights, passengers will fly aboard American’s Embraer 175, a 76-seat jet that will be operated by American Eagle, and offer three seating choices.

Tickets to go to Los Angeles and Dallas will go on sale next Monday, though pricing has not yet been announced. Round-trip flights to Phoenix currently cost between $290 and $307, plus a checked bag fee of $25 to $35.

Beyond the benefit of more flight options for residents who desire closer and more convenient choices when they travel, the local business community thinks American’s new air service — coupled with United’s flight to Denver — will pay off quickly.

“The continued expansion and additional routes are a high priority,” said Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. “Establishing those routes are a major boon for our local and regional economy. It opens up so much for local businesses and the tourism industry.”

Staff Writers Hannah Beausang and Bill Swindell contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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