Southwest Airlines announced additions Thursday to its spring and summer schedules, including new seasonal service between Pittsburgh International Airport and Sarasota, Florida.
Weekly flights on Saturdays to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) from PIT are scheduled to begin March 13. That route is currently served by Allegiant up to four times weekly.
Southwest’s new route follows an announcement from the carrier last month when it unveiled plans to begin operations at SRQ, its 10th airport served in Florida.
Aviation consultant and vice president of Hubpoint Strategic Advisors Zach Mensen noted the new route is a nod to PIT’s strong customer demand.
“They’re continuing the trend of connecting the dots between new cities (Sarasota) and strong existing Southwest customer bases like Pittsburgh,” Mensen said.
“[Southwest] may not be well established in Sarasota yet, but connecting to Pittsburgh is a low-risk strategy for the airline, and provides more nonstop leisure options for Pittsburgh customers.”
The news was part of larger national announcement that saw Southwest extend its bookable flight schedule through Aug. 16, 2021 and introduce two new airports in its network – Houston George Bush Intercontinental and Jackson, Mississippi – among other schedule additions. The airline also added to its network in the Caribbean and Mexico as well as to airports in Colorado during the winter and spring.
Many of the new routes announced across the country track with an airline trend during the pandemic: launching service to popular leisure destinations. With the drop in travel demand that carriers have faced this year, particularly business travel, airlines like Southwest, United and JetBlue have pivoted their strategies to test new markets.
Popular spots include warm-weather destinations like Florida and California, as well as destinations known for sports and recreational activities like national parks and the mountain states for adventure and ski vacations.
Mensen added that with fewer scheduled flights due to the impacts of the pandemic, carriers have more idle aircraft available to test new routes.
“They have the opportunity to take advantage of new markets where they see pockets of leisure demand,” Mensen said. “Before, many airlines were maxed out, utilizing all of their aircraft, and didn’t have as much availability to pursue some of these more niche, seasonal routes.”
For travelers in Pittsburgh, the Sarasota flight provides another option to visit nearby Bradenton, the spring training home for the Pittsburgh Pirates. While schedules are subject to change due to the pandemic, those games are scheduled to begin on Feb. 27.
The new PIT-SRQ seasonal service is expected to run through April 10.