SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - It has been a wish from Santa Barbara area travelers for years.
Travelers hoped for a low cost airline with multiple flights to many cities and now it's happening.
Southwest Airlines now has service to and from Las Vegas, Oakland and Denver from Santa Barbara.
Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Watterson said at the special arrival event, "We had Santa Barbara on our radar for awhile. They wooed us, showed us the numbers. Brought us here to see the area. It met our criteria. So we are super happy!"
Travelers will have access to multiple other cities, and continue to find lower cost airfares. Some flights will be $39 one-way.
Some passengers said they found $29. introductory fares. Watterson said, "that got a lot of people to come out. It won't always be $29. but it will be double digits for a long time. "
He also said there are connection to 50 cities in the U.S. and Mexico.
He expects other carriers to lower fares soon to compete with Southwest, and realizes it's a win for passengers overall.
With the travel industry coming back after the pandemic, Watterson says "we are thankful the government helped us out. Now, there is a pent up demand. Everyone wants to get out and see grandma and visit the world!"
Santa Barbara tourism and hospitality leaders also say it will be a heavily marketed addition to the area and should be an economic stimulus on its own.
Kathy Janega-Dykes with Visit Santa Barbara said, "there's such brand loyalty to Southwest airlines and there are those people who will choose only those destinations that are serviced by Southwest."
She says this could lead to more corporate meeting plans in-person and also weddings or special events.
The first flight, coming from Las Vegas touched down about 10:35 a.m.
Passengers coming off the plane were greeted with Santa Barbara gift bags and a ring of balloons to walk through.
Mayor Cathy Murillo personally spoke to dozens of passengers coming to Santa Barbara and taking off. "It will be a great boost to our economy and it will support everyone moving for fun, for work and some of us are already planning our trips!"
An Airport Commissioner Dennis Houghton said he has been contacted several times about Southwest and the timeline for the carrier to ever come to the area. "Oh my gosh yes! I have neighbors who say 'please Dennis you are on the airport commission. Get us Southwest!' It's nice to be able to call people and say they're here."
Houghton said the airport staff, city leaders and Visit Santa Barbara worked closely to make the agreement with Southwest.
Some of the departing passengers were cheering and screaming to show their enthusiasm for the new service.
"I have been flying Southwest for 30-some years. We usually take the train down to Burbank so this is wonderful," said Lynette Jordano.
Nearby, Kim Stone, and airline worker was doing a day trip with her grandson Jack. "We are just going for the day. Go swimming. Go to the wave pool and the floating river and then come home tonight."
For another passenger it was a special occasion. "My birthday was yesterday and we decided to book our Vegas trip today because this is the first flight out," said Realtor John Thyne. "We knew it was coming so we booked it a couple weeks ago."
A passenger heading to Las Vegas for a work event, Maryann Elder from Santa Ynez said, "It's fun to see everyone out and enjoying and to be all together once again." The flight fit perfectly in her schedule and it was only a coincidence that it was the first day of Southwest Service.
She and a coworker enjoyed the festivities especially since traveling has taken such a set back in the last year.
The first plane was called California One in the Southwest fleet.
"The paint scheme is in the flag of the state of California," Watterson said. It's something unique they do in certain states where they have a strong flight schedule and presence.
The Santa Barbara City Fire Department has its airport engines positioned to spray a shower of water on the plane as it made its way to Gate 3 in a picture perfect arrival out of the morning overcast.
Southwest is flying the 737 planes and recently announced it has a new order in to Boeing to upgrade to the new 150-seat 737 MAX 7.
In addition to Santa Barbara, Southwest is also beginning new service in Fresno.