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Southwest 737 aircraft. The airline is adding new services to Miami and Palm Springs. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

Southwest Plans Sarasota Launch Despite Seeing Demand Dip

As summer travel begins to dip and COVID-19 numbers climb in the United States, carrier Southwest Airlines warned that the trend is affecting demand. The airline says that demand for the next two months has slowed after months of positive trends. The carrier says that this will play a big issue for airlines who rely heavily on leisure travel to move passengers through the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year season.

Southwest says that revenue is still down 65% as the airline industry is still reeling from the chaos caused by the pandemic. The airline has improved though from the low point of 95% when the issue originally arose in March and April. The airline expects this trend to continue through the new year with a target revenue of just 30% to 35% from the 2019 counterpart.

Southwest was already attempting to increase capacity by removing the policy on blocking middle seats during the COVID-19 outbreak. The airline joined in the midst of the policy shift, following those like American who had unblocked seats earlier while competitors like Delta have waited till later to ease the seat restriction policy. Southwest’s third-quarter continued to show the stress placed on the industry as the airline announced a load factor of 44.9% and an operating loss of $1.6 billion.

Despite the slowing in travel bookings, the lack of demand has not stopped the Dallas-based carrier from looking to new markets. The airline on Wednesday announced that Sarasota would become the 10th destination for the airline touting ‘Transparency’ with service due to begin in 2021. An exact start to service has yet to be announced.

Sarasota joins Miami in picking up Florida service by the airline during the pandemic, as Southwest had opted for nearby markets for service to these markets in previous years. Sarasota has seen service from all other major carriers, including leisure specific airlines like Sun Country Airlines and Allegiant Air. Southwest has not decided on Sarasota markets yet but will announce the launch routes within the next month.

Sarasota continues the theme for adding leisure destinations during the time of the pandemic, as the results of stay-at-home orders and the lack of business travel pushing the demand for leisure markets. Sarasota has close ties to the Gulf of Mexico already with flights to Tampa and Ft. Myers/Naples but lacks service to the city between the two. Sarasota will already land a new service next month on Allegiant with flights to Boston beginning November 19.

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