Expansion of American Eagle airline service between Santa Fe and Dallas/Fort Worth takes off this weekend.
Starting Friday, a new early departure — leaving Santa Fe Municipal Airport at 8:15 a.m. and arriving at DFW at 10:55 a.m. local time — is expected to prove especially popular with businesspeople looking to make connections for flights to the East Coast and elsewhere, Santa Fe airport manager Jim Montman said.
“I’ve checked on the flight,” he said, “and it appears to have been full for quite some time.”
Starting Thursday, an evening flight from the American Airlines hub at DFW will also make it easier for westbound passengers to reach Santa Fe. The flight will depart DFW at 7:40 p.m. and arrive in Santa Fe at 8:30 p.m. local time. The crew overnights in Santa Fe and then makes the early flight back to DFW.
The expanded service, which was announced in mid-December, will use the same 44-seat Embraer ERJ-140 regional jets that provide American Eagle’s other three daily flights in and out of Santa Fe.
Fares are affected by how far in advance you book. A check of the airline Web site on Tuesday evening showed that a last-minute booking for a roundtrip departing Santa Fe early Friday and returning from Dallas on Sunday evening would cost about $599. A similar itinerary in late March was available for about $403.
Valerie Alarid, officer manager of Wings Travel, said American Eagle is becoming more popular with her clients as the airline adds more flights.
“We have clients who want to leave the East Coast in the afternoon,” she said. “With this new flight (leaving Dallas at 7:40 p.m.), they can be back in Santa Fe the same day.”
Alarid also said American Eagle’s daily connection with Los Angeles is “nice for clients who are traveling to Asia. I think it will become more and more popular.”
The start of the third daily link between Dallas and Santa Fe comes as the embattled airline industry begins to show some signs of life.
On Tuesday, shares of U.S. airlines rose strongly after United, one of the largest, reported strong January traffic. According to Reuters, United said earlier in the week that its unit revenue from its planes rose between 9.5 percent and 11.5 percent for January.
Other major airlines’ shares were also higher, with American Airlines rising 9.3 percent.
“If unit revenues are rising at United, that’s generally an indication that demand is improving in general,” Standard & Poors analyst Jim Corridore told Reuters.
American Eagle flights to and from Santa Fe resulted in 19,653 enplanements and deplanements during the last seven months of 2009, which works out to an average of little more than 2,800 a month.
The number that is expected to grow as service expands and more travelers become familiar with the alternative to using Albuquerque International Sunport. During the first month of 2010, there were 4,634 enplanements and deplanements in Santa Fe.
Montman said the connections with DFW are the most popular flights, while the lilnk with LAX in Los Angeles is “coming along.”
American Eagle was forced to cancel a number of flights because of the recent stormy weather, Montman said.
Load factors, which give an accurate indication of how heavily particular flights are booked, aren’t made public, airline spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said. However, she said, “They are meeting expectations.”
Montman and Simon Brackley, president of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, both expect heavier traffic as warmer weather approaches.
“All of this has been happening in the slowest part of the season,” Brackley said. “As spring and summer comes along, we anticipate even more growth. We would like to see other airlines as well.”
Delta Air Lines in mid-2007 said it also planned to offer regional jet service here, linking Santa Fe with Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, but later decided not to proceed with the plan because market conditions appeared not to warrant it.
As for Santa Fe’s efforts to bring other carriers to Santa Fe, Montman said this week, “We are talking to other airlines, but nothing is confirmed.”