American Airlines has quietly added nonstop service between Santa Fe and the Los Angeles International Airport, with flights starting in April.
But a passenger would have to stay a full week in either city to take advantage of nonstop service both ways.
The single weekly flight in each direction, available on Saturdays, can only be booked on the American Airlines website, which shows seasonal service beginning April 11 and ending Oct. 24.
Local officials said no one from American had contacted anyone directly connected with the Santa Fe Regional Airport or the local tourism industry about the upcoming service.
Neither Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe — the city’s convention and visitors bureau — nor Paul Margetson, managing partner of Hotel Santa Fe and president of the Northern New Mexico Air Alliance, had heard about the nonstop service, and American Airlines had not announced it or mentioned Santa Fe on its list of new routes for 2020.
American officials did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment on the new service.
“American hasn’t called and talked to me,” said airport manager Mark Baca on Monday morning.
But, he said, “It’s a huge feather in the cap of the city that we are moving forward to accommodate as many nonstop destinations as we can.”
Los Angeles is the fourth nonstop destination city in the Santa Fe Regional Airport’s current lineup, along with Phoenix, Denver and Dallas.
The American Airlines website says the outbound flight from Santa Fe to Los Angeles will depart at 12:47 p.m. and arrive at 1:52 p.m. The Los Angeles flight will leave at 11:20 a.m. and arrive in Santa Fe at 2:12 p.m. A basic economy roundtrip ticket is $172, with a main cabin seat for $242 and first-class seat for $520.
The Canadair RJ 700, operated by SkyWest Airlines flying as American Eagle, has 65 seats with nine first-class seats and 56 seats in the main cabin.
Randall said flight passengers who don’t want to stay in either city for a full week “could use the nonstop coming in or going home and do a stop in Phoenix going the other way.”
Stuart Kirk, executive director of the Northern New Mexico Air Alliance — which promotes economic development in Santa Fe, Taos and Los Alamos through use of the Santa Fe airport — said Los Angeles is the city’s top priority for new nonstop service.
Also on the short list are San Francisco, Houston and Chicago, Kirk said.
But enthusiasm for the new Los Angeles flight was tempered by the Saturday-only scheduling.
“The day of the week is not the best,” Margetson said. “This is better than nothing, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s a beginning. There is a tremendous, tremendous demand for a flight to L.A.”
The new service comes as the Santa Fe Regional Airport is in the design phase of a terminal expansion project to provide more seating beyond the security checkpoint, add a third gate and extend the paved parking area. Groundbreaking is expected for early 2021, Baca said.
The expansion will accommodate what Margetson said is a growing number of passengers. Traffic has increased from 300 people a day four years ago to 800 a day now, he said.
American previously offered nonstop service between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, from November 2009 to September 2015.
Randall said the prior flight had a passenger load factor of 72 percent, which was before “the real growth” of the film industry in Santa Fe. He believes the new fights could exceed 80 percent capacity.
“It’s exciting to hear that they are at least testing the validity of a nonstop until October,” Randall said. “If the volume is high enough, it will be the first step for more days of service.”