United Airlines is indefinitely suspending flights from the Santa Maria Public Airport to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver.
United Airlines originally planned to launch nonstop service to the three major cities in June 2020; however, it was delayed to this fall and now it's unclear when those flights will actually happen, if at all.
"It's very disappointing because we had other trips planned involving either flying through Denver to the Midwest or up to San Francisco and the West Coast from there,” said traveler Trevor Marshall.
Earlier this month, Santa Maria resident Trevor Marshall booked a trip from Santa Maria to Madison, Wisconsin with a connecting flight in Denver, Colorado on October 6.
“We lived there for 10 years and have memories of shoveling snow for 10 winters and we wanted to go back and see some old friends,” Marshall said. “When we realized United was offering a flight from Santa Maria with just one change in Denver, it seemed perfect."
However, it may have been too good to be true. Just last weekend, he received an email from the airline informing him of his flight cancellation.
“I did a bit of research online and realized it wasn't just that one flight in that one week, it was the whole rest of this year and San Francisco flights as well,” Marshall said.
UA @UnitedAirlines_ indefinitely suspends nonstop service from Santa Maria to SF, LA & Denver due to revenue loss and staff shortages. They originally planned to launch in 2020. Passengers who booked flights this fall now have to arrange trips out of SLO or SB Airports. 5p @KSBY— Megan Healy (@MeganHealyTV) June 28, 2021
United Airlines postponed the services twice because of the pandemic, with the last goal of launching in the fall of 2021.
“We met with [United Airlines] in March, just when the pandemic was starting, and they fully planned to start it up,” said Chris Hastert, Santa Maria Public Airport District General Manager. “Then things shifted really quickly and it was actually pushed back two times and each of those times it was more of a 'wait and see what the market is doing.’"
The airline industry tanked during the pandemic and now revenue loss and staffing shortages are to blame.
“There's just so much going on with the industry, business travel isn't picking up as fast as they had hoped,” Hastert added.
"Throughout the pandemic, United has continued to evaluate and adapt its network to respond to the changing travel landscape. Due to the pandemic and changes in market conditions since our initial announcement, United has made the difficult decision to suspend its plan to operate nonstop service to Santa Maria, Calif. (SMX) from Denver and San Francisco. We will continue to serve the region and greater Central Coast community with service to Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) and San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP)."
Passengers like Marshall say they waited over an hour to get a new flight.
“When the representative did come online, she was very helpful and agreed to rebook us from San Luis Obispo without any charge,” Marshall said. “It can still be done, but it's disappointing not having those flights from Santa Maria because both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara are not too far, but their parking charges are quite considerable if you go away for a week or two. "
As leisure travel picks up, airport officials say there is growing interest to come to the Central Coast.
“We were hoping to get some of the business travelers back locally. Our community really deserves hub service and we are really trying to bring that back for them,” Hastert said.
Airport officials said they are still talking with United about adding the flights and are now aiming for service in 2023. They are also open to adding other carriers in the near future once business travel picks up.
If you did book a United Airlines flight for this fall, you should have already received an email from them. Hastert recommends flying out of nearby airports such as SLO or Santa Barbara.