Southwest Airlines coming to Bellingham International Airport

Southwest Airlines will start flying out of Bellingham beginning in November to Las Vegas and Oakland, Calif, hoping to capitalize on an expected border reopening.

Passengers check in for Southwest Airlines flights at Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. In January, Southwest Airlines reported its first annual loss since 1972. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the industry in 2020 with U.S. airlines reporting a combined $34 billion loss.

Southwest Airlines will start flying out of Bellingham beginning in November to Las Vegas and Oakland, Calif, hoping to capitalize on an expected border reopening.

British Columbians have in the past used the Bellingham International Airport in Washington State, about an hour and a half by car from Vancouver, as a cheaper departure point to places such as Hawaii, Palm Springs and Las Vegas.

As recently as 2016, as much as 60 per cent of the passengers flying out of Bellingham have been Canadians.

Southwest Airlines started as a no-frills, low-cost airline, but has raised its fares. It still offers the first two checked-bags for free. There are also no seat assignments, although you can pay an early-bird check-in fee to board earlier and get a wider pick of seats.

In its announced Bellingham flight schedule, Southwest Airlines highlighted that customers travelling from nearly 40 airports across its network will be able to land closer to southern British Columbia.

The airline also advertised limited flights at $39. A check of Southwest’s low-fare calendar for November flights to Oakland show one-way fares ranging from $39 to $228. Those are for Southwest’s lowest tier tickets that are non-refundable. Top-tier tickets can be much higher, $500 or more one way, but allow you to board first and provide cash refunds and same-day ticket changes.

“Southwest service in Bellingham positions us just south of Metro Vancouver,” Southwest Airlines chairman and CEO Gary Kelly wrote in a letter to Southwest employees earlier this year.

“Following the reopening of the Canadian border, we expect a return of the value-minded travellers who already drive to this alternative airport to escape high fares and taxes — and that’s very, very typical for Southwest destinations.”

Canada recently said it is looking at easing quarantine travel requirements for Canadians and permanent residents returning to Canada as early as July as a first step in a phased reopening.

When all COVID-19 border restrictions might be lifted is unknown.

Sandy Ward, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, said Saturday that Southwest Airlines announced flight schedule is welcome news.

She said that’s particularly so because Southwest’s extensive network allows connections from Las Vegas and Oakland throughout the U.S.

When the border reopens, Ward said she believes the addition of Southwest to the Bellingham airport will bring benefits on both sides of the Washington Sate-British Columbia border.

“It’s good news all around,” she said.

Like many airports, Bellingham had a big drop in passenger traffic in 2020 because of COVID-19 with just 99,673 passengers, down from 343,628 in 2019.

Bellingham had as many as 600,000 passengers in 2016.

Vancouver International Airport’s traffic dwarfs that of Bellingham’s.

In 2019, more than 26 million passengers travelled through the Vancouver airport. That plummeted in 2020 to just more than seven million because of the pandemic.

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