Planes Upgraded to Jets Instead of Props

Passengers flying out of Santa Maria are now heading to San Francisco. Direct flights to Los Angeles are no longer.

The airport made the switch Wednesday with two United Express flights traveling to San Francisco International Airport from Santa Maria Public Airport at 6 a.m. and 2:03 p.m.

“The changeover happened this morning and we’re excited that the upgrade in aircraft and hub has gone so well,” Airport District General Manager Chris Hastert said Wednesday. 

The switch to San Francisco as a hub provides access to 25 unique one-stop destinations that are not offered by United at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), such as Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Kansas City and Indianapolis. It also provides an improved international element, with access to new destinations including Paris, France; Chengdu, China; Frankfurt Germany and Osaka, Japan.

Airport officials said the switch represents a substantial increase in both the number of flights and seats available.

Not only has a change occurred in destination, but in aircraft. The service to San Francisco — operated by Skywest Airlines — will use Canadair Regional Jet 200s, which allow 50 passengers, instead of the 30-passenger Embraer EMB 120 turboprop aircraft which was used to fly to LAX.

Skywest recently announced it would be retiring the turboprop aircraft, which prompted airport officials to look into other options.

Orcutt resident Brian Steven said he sees the switch as a positive change. He flew out of Santa Maria on one of the turboprop aircrafts before the change was made, and arrived back in Santa Maria on Wednesday on one of the newly available jet flights.  “I love the fact that it’s jets, not props,” Steven said. “Not that I didn’t feel safe, but the props are too noisy.”  He also said it was handier for one of his common flight destinations: Boise, Idaho.

However, some travelers found immediate problems with the service change. Bruce Praet, who lives in Orange County, was in Santa Maria for business and had to fly north to San Francisco in order to fly south to his final destination of Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Pismo Beach resident Sherry Richardson was headed to Kansas City, Missouri, by way of San Francisco on Wednesday and had weather concerns.  “Last time I tried to fly through San Francisco, my flight was canceled and I had to go the next day, so I don’t like to take a chance on San Francisco,” Richardson said. “I miss the flights to LA.”

Hastert, however, said overall the changes have been well received and customer feedback has been positive.  “The larger, faster, smoother aircraft are providing an enhanced customer experience,” he said.

United Express flights to San Francisco will leave Santa Maria at 6 a.m and 2 p.m. daily. Arrivals from San Francisco will be at 1:32 and 11:47 p.m.

May 6, 2015  Santa Maria Times By Abby Hamblin