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Local News

United Airlines to End Service at Santa Maria Public Airport

Allegiant Air will continued to offer round-trip flights to Las Vegas 3 days per week

A United Airlines regional jet sits on the tarmac Monday at the Santa Maria Public Airport. United has announced that it will end all flights from the airport in October.
A United Airlines regional jet sits on the tarmac Monday at the Santa Maria Public Airport. United has announced that it will end all flights from the airport in October. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

United Airlines will end all flights to and from the Santa Maria Public Airport in October.

Airline representatives told airport officials the last day of service at the Santa Maria facility will be Oct. 5.

“Overall, it’s just underperforming where they want it to be,” said Chris Hastert, general manager of the Santa Maria airport.

The end of service will come 17 months after United began using 50-passenger regional jets and flying to San Francisco. 

"It's disappointing," Hastert said. "We don't know what the long-term effects will be yet."

Previously, the airline used 30-passenger turboprop planes and flew to Los Angeles.

A United spokesman said airline officials made the decision after assessing its Santa Maria passenger numbers.

“We continually review supply and demand for service in all of the markets we serve," said United spokesman Jonathan Guerin. "We made the difficult decision to end service between Santa Maria and San Francisco because the route did not meet our expectations and is no longer sustainable."

He noted United will continue to serve customers from nearby San Luis Obispo where United offers nonstop service to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Additionally, United offers nonstop service between Santa Barbara and Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

United customers with travel to or from Santa Maria on or after Oct. 6 will be contacted by United Airlines, Guerin added.

Airport officials were notified of the canceled service late Friday and the change was included in United's reservation system by Saturday, Hastert said. 

Ridership hovered around 50 percent, a number of that should have been near 60 percent or higher, Hastert said.

The local flights are operated by Utah-based SkyWest Airlines, which flew under the name United Express. Those partnerships, or code-share arrangements, in the airline industry aim to capture passengers at smaller airports and keep them flying on the major airline.

"I think if we were dealing directly with SkyWest we would have had a better audience because they can focus more on the smaller markets," Hastert said. "We're just too small for United to really pay much attention to."

Santa Maria's airport officials have long struggled to boost their flights and destinations, hiring consultants and meeting with airline representatives while battling passenger-service airports in neighboring Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, which are both home to universities and county seats.

While the neighboring airports require paying for parking, Santa Maria officials have touted their free lots.

The cancelation comes weeks after Alaska Airlines announced plans to start service between San Luis Obispo and Seattle next year. 

"It's obviously disappointing," Hastert said. "We were meeting with Alaska as well trying to get them to look at our airport with lower fees. We thought we were a better opportunity for them."

Hastert said United Airlines failed to address fares for government and military travelers — a big part of the airport’s passengers due to Vandenberg Air Force Base — when the switch to San Francisco occurred.

Additionally, San Francisco has long struggled with congestion, complicated by weather-related problems that led to delays for flights to and from Santa Maria. 

Hastert said Santa Maria officials tried to get United representatives to deal with the problem areas, but were not successful.

Once United stops service, the airport still will have commercial passenger flights provided by Allegiant Air three days a week as a round-trip flight to Las Vegas.

Additionally, Central Coast Shuttle Services transports passengers to Los Angeles International Airport via vans, touting itself as "the only hassle free way to LAX."

"I'm guessing our shuttle company to LAX is going to be a little bit busier," Hastert said. "Hopefully, we can use that information and meet with a different airline and get some replacement service fairly soon."

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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