For the 50+ Traveler

Southwest Airlines will add Sarasota to its list of destinations, with flights to the Florida city set to start in the first quarter of 2021.

The announcement is the latest in a flurry of new flights planned by the airline. 10 new destinations are planned for coming months despite a downturn in air travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

It also marks another step forward for Sarasota’s airport, which is showing growth in passenger traffic and new flights from a number of carriers recently.

“Our customers who choose SRQ (Sarasota) will land closer to their preferred beaches and business meetings, benefitting from our added investment in the growing region between our longtime cities of Tampa Bay and Ft. Myers,” said Southwest’s Steve Goldberg in a statement. “Locals who fly Southwest can also pair their preferred airline and airport, and get in the air faster with a short drive to SRQ.”

Southwest previously announced a number of new destinations, including flights into and out of Palm Springs and Miami starting this weekend.

The airline will also add flights in mid-December to Montrose Regional Airport and Yampa Valley Regional Airport, two Colorado destinations popular for skiers headed to Telluride, Crested Butte, and Steamboat Springs.

In early 2021, Southwest will add Chicago (O’Hare), Houston, Colorado Springs, Savannah, and Jackson, Mississippi, to its destinations.

“The Company is leveraging additional airports in or near cities where its customer base is large, along with adding easier access to popular leisure-oriented destinations from across its domestic-focused network,” Southwest wrote in a filing Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sarasota officials were thrilled with the addition of Southwest to their airport.

“This is especially significant during these challenging times in aviation," said Rick Piccolo, president and CEO of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. "Southwest's low fares and renowned customer service will provide the bi-county community, as well as our inbound visitors, with access to the vast network of destinations that Southwest Airlines serves."

In addition to Southwest, Sarasota is adding a number of other routes from carriers this month. JetBlue is starting direct flights to Newark, Sun Country is restarting seasonal service to Minneapolis, and Delta is adding flights to New York (LaGuardia).

In addition, Allegiant Air is starting new flights to Boston, Louisville, and South Bend, Indiana.

It comes as passenger traffic continues to claw its way back from devastatingly low numbers during the start of the pandemic. Sarasota traffic in October was at 69 percent of the same month in 2019. July and August traffic was at just 43 percent, and climbed to 53 percent in September.

“We continue to see our airport rebounding much faster than other airports across the country,” Piccolo said in a statement. “Our October passenger level was just shy of where it was in 2018, and each month we continue to see our passenger levels climb.”