Every Spring Quarter, multiple Cal Poly fraternities pile into buses for an eight-hour pilgrimage to Sin City. This year, their journey could include peanuts and pretzels on board a flight.
The San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport recently added flights to Las Vegas, San Diego and, soon, Portland, Oregon. With these additions, the airport will offer flights to nine cities operated by four different airlines.
“Given how much time I’d gain in Vegas, I’d spend a couple hundred dollars to fly,” business administration senior and member of Delta Chi fraternity Vince DeSantis said. “I already know I’m going to spend a good amount of money that weekend, so it would be worth it to avoid 15-plus hours of travel both ways.”
While it might not be as cheap as a bus, flights can save students a significant amount of time. A roundtrip flight to Las Vegas from San Luis Obispo, for example, costs between $230 to $380 depending on the dates, but can deliver passengers to their destination in an hour and 20 minutes. Compare that with an eight hour drive, and DeSantis said the cost is “a small price to pay.”
The nearest alternative flight to Las Vegas is out of Santa Maria and operated by Allegiant, an airline caught in the crosshairs of a 60 Minutes special detailing its mechanical issues.
Fraternity members are not the only ones who can benefit from these new flights. Biology freshman and Oregon-native Eva Kokkino said she is relieved about the new flight to her home state. Kokkino explained that, for many out-of-state students, getting home is no simple feat. It often involves finding a ride to either Los Angeles International Airport or San Francisco International Airport, navigating terminals, boarding a flight — sometimes with delays or stops — and more driving after landing to finally get home.
Kokkino said the airport’s new flights can ease travel burdens for her and Cal Poly’s 3,500 out-of-state students.
“I’ll definitely be using the flight to Portland,” Kokkino said. “Flying out of San Francisco, there’s so many delays. I’ve gotten stuck there so many times.”
Though out-of-state flights can save students from long hauls, closer destinations in the state have also sparked interest among students. Graphic communications senior Lily Morgans, one of Cal Poly’s 8.1 percent of students from San Diego, said she is used to driving more than five hours to get home to Encinitas for the weekend. When the SLO County Regional Airport started offering roundtrip flights to San Diego, Morgans was all aboard.
Rather than drive, Morgans opted to fly home for President’s Day weekend. Her flight left at 2 p.m. and she was lounging in her parent’s living room just an hour and a half later. Better still was that the roundtrip cost her $117 — less than she would typically spend on gas filling her Jeep for the trip.
“When you account for gas, wear and tear on your car and time, the flight seems like a no-brainer,” Morgans said. “Most of all, I save time traveling that I can spend with friends and family instead.”
According to Airport Director Kevin Bumen, this was precisely the goal. When Bumen joined the staff six years ago, he said he knew a new terminal was needed to improve travel to and from San Luis Obispo.
At the time, the existing terminal could no longer accommodate the expanding needs of county residents and visitors. In November 2017, the airport team unveiled a new $39.5 million dollar terminal that has a new outdoor courtyard, food and beverage concessions post-security and a larger checkpoint area.
“The building we are standing in right now didn’t exist when I got here,” Bumen said. “It was a thought. It was an important piece of everything that’s happening.”
Nearly 545,000 passengers traveled through the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport in 2019, the highest to-date after opening the new terminal, according to a news release. For reference, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) served 87,534,384 passengers in 2018, according to the airport.
While the flights to Las Vegas, Portland and San Diego are the most recent additions, flights have also been added to Denver, Dallas and Seattle within the past two years.
American Airlines, which offers four daily flights to Phoenix and twice-daily trips to Dallas-Fort Worth, took a total of 199,421 travelers. Alaska Airlines has a daily flight to Seattle, which carried 48,607 passengers last year. United Airlines was the airport’s largest carrier with 294,799 passengers traveling between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver, the news release said.
Bumen said he hopes this growth will continue. The airport will also launch daily nonstop services to Portland starting in June. Bumen explained that the airport team is always evaluating other markets, in places like Salt Lake, Chicago, Sacramento, Reno and Mammoth.
“An airport has a lot of potential, but if it’s just potential it doesn’t bring any value,” Bumen said. “We are excited about being able to unlock that value and support the university and community.”
Meghan Pickett contributed to this story.