Southwest Airlines to offer flights at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in spring 2021

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's wheels up for Southwest Airlines at Fresno Yosemite international.

The airline announced the Valley's airport would be one of their two new destinations in California. The timing is part of a bigger plan for Southwest.

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand says "this is their strategy for a post-pandemic economy," adding that this is a move decades in the making, but it wasn't until November that airline officials sat down with the city and airport to discuss flights to Fresno.

In a statement, Southwest Airlines Executive Vice President Andrew Watterson says they're dedicated to serving California, "while other airlines seem to fall in and out of love with the state, we're focused on increasing the reach of our low fares and flexible policies in places where we expect them to make a difference."

Even if you don't fly Southwest, the airline's low fares could help drive down flight costs across all of Fresno's carriers.

In November, Southwest sent a team to scope out the Central California region and toured the airport to see whether FAT can accommodate.

Director of aviation Kevin Meikle says thanks to an ongoing expansion project, they can offer up office and counter space along with gates and baggage claim areas.

Meikle says "We have everything ready for them. We may be doing some minor amounts of internal remodeling per their specification."

Any work that needs to be done will come from the airport's funds and won't impact the city's general fund.

An airline spokesman tells Action News that Fresno to the Southwest route map has been on their wishlist for a while.

As for flight destinations, mums the word from the airline, but Mayor-Elect Jerry Dyer says the city put several locations on the table.

"I mentioned Chicago, Las Vegas, an east coast city like New Jersey, Cabo because there are a lot of individuals who fly out of Fresno for that leisure," Dyer said.

But those flights also mean tourists flying into Fresno.

Mayor-Elect Dyer says, "having Southwest in Fresno is a game-changer for us in terms of attracting corporations here, growing our economy and even perhaps being able to attract a Triple-A team again."

There's no question the move will have an economic impact that spans the Valley, but with COVID changing the travel industry, it's unclear how soon we will see those benefits.

On the other hand, Meikle says, "if we never had the pandemic, we might not be having this call, so really, it was a re-jumpstart of that whole industry."
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.