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I-Team: Palm Springs International Airport flights are booming despite pandemic

At Palm Springs International Airport, change is literally in the air.

"It's good for Palm Springs. It's good for the airport. Because this is a wonderful airport. It's absolutely beautiful," said Cathy Conran-Smith, a traveler.

Despite the pandemic, PSP is one of the few places in the nation where right now air-service is growing. It's evidenced by all the check-in counters under construction.

Boutique, Delta, Southwest, Allegiant, Alaska, American, and Jetblue have all recently unveiled new flights to PSP.

All this added service could push the number of flights from Palm Springs above 2019 levels which airport officials say would be a remarkable feat given how the pandemic has decimated flight schedules throughout most of the U.S.

"Why are all these airlines adding flights to Palm Springs at a time when fewer Americans are flying?," News Channel 3's Peter Daut asked Daniel Meier, a PSP spokesperson.

"People are wanting to go to places that are outdoors, where they can be safe and socially distanced. And Palm Springs being the kind of market that we are, very outdoors market, great weather. It's a place that people can come, go get a house with a pool, be by themselves with a couple of friends or close family," Meier replied. "This amount of growth for us, while welcomed is definitely unprecedented."

Peter then asked Meier how the airport is preparing for the uptick in travelers during the pandemic.

"We're making sure we have all the gates available for the airlines, looking at schedules, making sure the availability for them when their flights are arriving we can put them on a gate, and doing all this general preparedness when we do prepare for normal travel," Meier answered.

The growth stands out considering the airport's smaller size.

PSP ranked 86th in the nation for travel numbers in 2019, handling just under 2.6 million passengers.

So why are more airlines coming to Palm Springs?

"Palm Springs has been on our radar for decades, if not on the map. Ironically, it's the downturn in the economy that's made it possible for us to consider coming there," said Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines recently began year-round service to Palm Springs, making it the biggest new carrier in at least a decade. Until now, Ontario was the nearest airport where travelers could book tickets on the budget airline.

"What do you think this means Brad for travelers in terms of ticket prices and options?," Peter asked Hawkins.

"Palm Springs is one of those markets where we saw high ticket prices," Hawkins answered. "Southwest comes in, ticket prices go down, we drive up traffic, and everybody wins."

Low fares are certainly great for travelers but they don't always translate into airline profits, especially when the industry is already hemorrhaging cash and asking for additional relief from the federal government.

Many industry watchers view these new routes as a way to generate extra revenue with little guarantee they will continue after the pandemic ends. and normal travel resumes.

"Are you hopeful that these flights will be profitable?," Peter asked Hawkins.

"I think our research shows that sun and snow are going to sell immediately. And for Southwest, we're not just coming in right now for a hunt for revenue if you will," Hawkins said. "We're not just serving it as an outpost. We're not taking people there from our points of strength, but we want to serve the Coachella Valley and so that's why you see us flying nonstop to Oakland and Phoenix and Denver. Beyond there, we're going to be bringing in lots of people of course who want to come in for the high season. But really we're there to serve the community."

Hawkins continued, "We're also intending to not love you and leave you as we say at Southwest. We're coming in to have a foundational, year-round presence."

On Thursday, Alaska Airlines began several daily and weekly flights to Palm Springs. On Friday, American Airlines begins weekly service from Philadelphia.

This weekend, Jetblue begins a bi-weekly service from Fort Lauderdale.

Peter Daut

KESQ News Team

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