With entry into Santa Rosa airport’s burgeoning market, United Airlines has launched a strategy to draw more North Bay travelers to one of its largest hubs, San Francisco International Airport (airport code SFO).
After a 16-year absence, the airlines returned to the Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport (STS) June 8, offering three daily flights that will allow local travelers to avoid the hassle and expense of getting to SFO, where they can connect to destinations worldwide.
The Santa Rosa flight could attract passengers from Sonoma as well as other northern California counties like Mendocino, Lake, and Napa, said Tim Zahner, interim CEO, Sonoma Tourism.
United currently serves many small markets in California that fly into SFO including Monterey, Redding, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and few others.
“This has worked in other markets and it had worked well for United in the past,” said Jon Stout, STS airport manager. “United had served STS–SFO for many years before their departure in 2001.”
United has approximately 300 daily departures to nearly 100 destinations from San Francisco, more than any other carrier in the Bay Area, the company states.
More than 30,000 United Airlines customers pass through San Francisco’s airport every day.
“This new daily service will connect customers from all over the world to California’s wine country through San Francisco,” said Anthony Toth, United’s managing director of sales. “The three daily flights will operate like a shuttle between the two cities, providing business and leisure travelers with convenient flight options throughout the West Coast and beyond.”
At 39 minutes, the flights are the shortest offered by United. They are scheduled to arrive into Sonoma County Airport at 1:35 p.m., 4:45 p.m. and 11:20 p.m. and depart daily at 6:10 a.m., 2:05 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. from Santa Rosa on a Bombardier CRJ-200 — a 50-seat jet aircraft.
“It’s all about connections, not the local market,” said Chris McGinnis, founder of the San Francisco based TravelSkills.com blog. “You’ll find similar scenarios with other airlines. For example, you can fly Delta between its Atlanta hub and Macon, GA — only 90 minutes away by car. But very few people buy ATL-Macon round-trips. I don’t expect there will be many people buying Santa Rosa-SFO round-trips.”
It’s also about competition.
“United probably saw how many customers they were losing when they were connecting in Seattle or LAX from Alaska’s non-stops to those cities, and decided to get in the market. Same thing with American’s flight from Santa Rosa to its Phoenix hub.”
In February, American began flying from Sonoma County to Phoenix, and starting in July, will add a second daily flight to its Arizona hub.
The airport had been in talks on and off with United for at least 10 years, Stout said.
The airline’s debut comes amid a flurry of recent activity causing growing pains at the airport.
The airport is projecting having to accommodate about 450,000 passengers in 2017 compared to 339,000 in 2016.
In the past 12 months, American Airlines, Allegiant Air, and Sun Country Airlines have committed to service between the north Santa Rosa airport and Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
United’s entry into Santa Rosa is part of a larger expansion for the airlines. In February it announced additional service to 31 destinations across the U.S. and Europe, starting this summer.