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Alaska Airlines is doubling down in Southern California ahead of new and expanded competition from JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines.

The Seattle-based carrier is matching JetBlue route-for-route from its Los Angeles (LAX) hub with new service to Cancun (CUN) and Reno (RNO) beginning Dec. 17, Alaska said Monday. JetBlue plans to begin service from its new LAX focus city on both routes this fall.

And 100 miles to the east, Alaska will add new nonstop flights between Palm Springs (PSP) and Boise (BOI), Reno and San Jose, California (SJC) also on Dec. 17. The routes are mostly unserved today — Allegiant Air offers limited service between Palm Springs and Boise — but come ahead of Southwest’s planned entry into the 11th-busiest airport in California by year-end.

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“We’ve long offered nonstop flights to some of the most popular vacation destinations from Southern California, and we continue to see demand for our unique low fare, high-quality experience,” said Brett Catlin, managing director of capacity planning and alliances at Alaska.

Competition aside, the new routes continue the trend of airlines adding flights in predominantly leisure markets aimed at holidaygoers who want a socially distanced escape during the coronavirus pandemic. Alaska emphasized “fun by the poolside, the beach, skiing [and] golfing”  in its statement.

So far, Palm Springs appears to be a big winner of this trend. In addition to Alaska and Southwest’s expansion in the desert oasis, Delta Air Lines will connect the city to Los Angeles in November and JetBlue will add new service from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) in December. Departures from the airport will only be down roughly 14% in October, while nationally they are down 45%, according to Cirium schedules.

Alaska has a long history in Palm Springs. It began serving the city in the late 1980s, including the San Jose route that it flew on-and-off since at least 1989 until 2014.

Related: Alaska Airlines makes bigger play for Los Angeles with 8 new routes

Even with the additions, Alaska remains far smaller than it was before COVID-19. The airline plans to fly just 58% of what it flew a year ago in October, Cirium shows. Schedules beyond October are still in flux.

Airlines are bracing for a tough autumn and winter as lucrative business flyers remain mostly grounded. The colder months are traditionally a slower time for leisure travel, especially outside of the end-of-year holidays.

Still, analysts at Cowen expect flyer numbers to continue to climb through December, albeit at a slower rate than during the summer. Their latest forecast has Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screenings surpassing 1 million people a day by the end of the year after peaking at a pandemic high of 968,673 people on Sept. 4, the Friday before Labor Day weekend.

Related: Alaska Airlines sees coronavirus as an opportunity to ‘rerack’ its route map

Alaska’s Los Angeles and Palm Springs expansion is just the latest in a series of additions to its route map. Since July, it has unveiled more than a dozen new routes from its California bases at LAX, San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO) and San Jose; and added Jackson Hole, Wyoming (JAC) to its map.

Alaska CEO Brad Tilden has described the pandemic as an opportunity to “rerack” the carrier’s route map with travel up in some of its core West Coast markets but down on many of the transcontinental routes it has added in recent years.

In addition to the new routes, the airline will up frequency between LAX and Boise to three daily flights; Guadalajara (GDL) to two daily flights; and Salt Lake City to two daily flights on Dec. 17.

Related: Alaska Airlines puts Wyoming on its route map, adds 3 routes to Jackson Hole

Below are the details of Alaska’s five new Los Angeles and Palm Springs routes.

  • Los Angeles – Cancun: seasonal daily flight on a Boeing 737 from Dec. 17 to April 12, 2021
  • Los Angeles – Reno: daily flight on an Embraer E175 from Dec. 17
  • Palm Springs – Boise: seasonal daily flight on an E175 from Dec. 17 to April 12, 2021
  • Palm Springs – Reno: seasonal flight on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday on an E175 from Dec. 17 to April 12, 2021
  • Palm Springs – San Jose: two daily flights on E175s from Dec. 17

Related: US airlines ‘fighting for survival’ with no hope of V-shaped recovery

Featured image by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock.

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