United brings mainline service back to Fresno

Passengers boarding a flight in Fresno

About a year ago, I took a look at air service available from Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). In that post, the news wasn’t good. Fresno had lost service to Las Vegas by US Airways and United, leaving only Allegiant. Allegiant dropped Honolulu, but added Mesa (Pheonix), which they apparently are no longer selling tickets for (as of last week!). Frontier left, again. Bakersfield lost Houston, and Visalia lost all service. The switch away from propeller airplanes meant Fresno got larger planes – but less frequency.

But finally, some good news, as reported in the comments of my last post:

Just an FYI update. United posted a new schedule this weekend that is a large increase in capacity/frequency on FAT-SFO flights including bringing back a 737 to Fresno.

United currently operates 3 roundtrip flights per day, 2 on 50 seat CRJs and 1 on a 66 seat CRJ-700. That is a total of 166 seats each way.

Starting August 15, United will operate 5 roundtrip flights each day on FAT-SFO.

But the big increase is the new flights add many additional seats due to the size of the aircraft. 1 flight will be on a 166 seat 737-800, 2 on 76 seat EMB-175s, and 2 on 50 seat CRJs. That will be a total of 412 seats each way after August 15.

That is an increase of 246 additional seats over the current FAT-SFO schedule.

The anonymous comment is correct. United will be returning to Fresno with a 737, creating a huge increase in seats between Fresno and San Francisco.

Wait, returning…don’t they already serve SFO?

Nope, that’s Fresno’s largest carrier, Skywest! You might not know them, but if you’ve flown out of Fresno, you’ve been on their planes. They serve:

  • San Francisco (branded as United)
  • Denver (as United) 
  • Los Angeles (branded as American Eagle or United)
  • Salt Lake City (as Delta)
  • Seattle (as Alaska)
  • San Diego (as Alaska)
  • Portland (as Alaska)

The only “real” domestic service (mainline) from the big carriers is to Dallas, on American, and sometimes Seattle, on Alaska. You can check out how big Skywest is here.

So what’s the difference?

More seats is the most important bit. Higher supply means lower prices, which is great, because FAT is an incredibly expensive airport to fly to or from. It’s also a little better for the customer experience. Larger planes means less need to gate-check your carry-ons, and a lower chance your checked bags get left behind due to weight issue. The flight can also be done slightly faster.

As I said last year:

Already an expensive airport, less options has meant higher prices, and more trouble when delays cause a connection to be missed. Everyone who flies into Fresno frequently has experience with either being forced to spend a night elsewhere or renting a car from LAX or SFO to actually arrive. While fog can be to blame in the winter (or when going to SFO), most of the time it’s because the plane scheduled for Fresno is diverted to serve another scheduled flight, leaving Fresno travelers high and dry.

By adding two new roundtrips, and doing so on larger aircraft, Fresno passengers will see some serious relief. Five daily departures, rather than 3, also means you can catch another flight if you miss your connection. You can also plan trips that require shorter stays in SFO, because it’s more likely that the times will match up.

The con, sadly, is that the flight is provided by United.

The other thing to think about is what this means for the other carriers.

Here is what I said a year ago:

Only Alaska has grown in Fresno, such as by offering service to San Diego. They’ve also recently purchased Virgin America, and taken big steps to increase their West Coast presence. If any airline is to add service to Fresno in the next few years, it would almost certainly be them.

Had you asked me last week which airline would next add service to Fresno, I still would have said Alaska. Indeed, Alaska has been going on a bender, adding flights left and right. Just in the past month they have made major moves.

In March, they announced:

San Francisco – Albuquerque eff 18SEP17 1 daily AS E175
San Francisco – Baltimore/Washington eff 16OCT17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Indianapolis eff 26SEP17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Kansas City eff 18SEP17 1 daily AS E175
San Francisco – Kona eff 14DEC17 1 daily VX 320
San Francisco – Nashville eff 05SEP17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – New Orleans eff 21SEP17 1 daily VX 320
San Francisco – Philadelphia eff 31AUG17 1 daily VX 319
San Francisco – Raleigh/Durham eff 19OCT17 1 daily VX 319
San Jose CA – Austin eff 28AUG17 1 daily AS E175
San Jose CA – Los Angeles eff 20SEP17 4 daily AS E175
San Jose CA – Tucson eff 28AUG17 1 daily AS E175

And then:

San Diego – Albuquerque eff 18OCT17 1 daily
San Diego – Austin eff 27AUG17 1 daily
San Diego – Kansas City eff 15DEC17 1 daily
San Diego – Minneapolis/St. Paul eff 18NOV17 1 daily
San Diego – Omaha eff 28AUG17 1 daily
San Diego – St. Louis eff 15DEC17 1 daily


Los Angeles – Philadelphia eff 01SEP17 1 daily Virgin America service(Previously served by
Portland OR – Detroit eff 30AUG17 1 daily Alaska Airlines service
Portland OR – New York JFK eff 06NOV17 1 daily Alaska Airlines service

I probably missed a few. Or a few dozen.

The other airlines have noticed, especially Delta.

And I think this is United’s attempt to head off more Alaska expansion in California. 

Alaska service to San Jose could provide an important commuting connection to Silicon Valley, and also link in to their strengthening cross-country network. Alaska could also look to bring back service to many cities Fresno has lost:

Blast from 1997:

It should be noted that SkyWest's United Express service at Fresno will be
 limited to Ontario and Las Vegas and that those flights have been designated
 with 5000-series flight numbers.  Passengers traveling on other United Express
 services from Fresno to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Burbank, Orange County and
 Sacramento will actually be flying on partner United Express carrier, WestAir,
 under 7000-series flight numbers 

Fresno currently has no service to Ontario, Burbank, Orange County, or Sacramento. Also, WestAir no longer exists.

Alaska could also try for something random – maybe Fresno to Austin, Boise, or Albuquerque?

Regardless,what Alaska has planned for the future is all speculation, but new United service looks to be a sure thing, and that’s worth celebrating.

5 Replies to “United brings mainline service back to Fresno”

  1. A couple things to add: 1) One large benefit of United mainline operating to SFO will mean increased on-time performance and reliability for that flight. United likes to trade FAA "flow control" slots with their regional partners. This means that they will often take a slot from a regional partner and give it to one of their larger mainline aircraft to keep that aircraft on time (or closer to on time) but, unfortunately, delay the regional flight further. For example, let's say that a 737 is supposed to leave LAX for SFO at 9AM and a CRJ is supposed to leave FAT for SFO at 8AM. Due to fog in SFO, ATC assigns a flow (delay) time of 9:30AM to the FAT flight and 10:30AM to the LAX flight. United decides to trade these slots, giving the LAX flight the 9:30 time and FAT flight the 10:30 time. Suddenly, the LAX flight is almost on time while the FAT flight is delayed 2.5 hours. This is completely normal and routine for united, as a slot is a slot, and one slot can be used by any aircraft no matter how big or small the a/c. United does this because it's easier to delay 50 people 2.5 hours than 150 people 1.5 hours. Unfortunately, the smaller the aircraft, the more likely it is to be delayed by "flow." 2) Because SkyWest preforms maintenance on overnighting aircraft in FAT, the flight schedules are often dictated by how much time they need, and aircraft are often delayed in the morning after being routed to FAT with a problem but needing more time on the ground to fix the problem. This new mainline flight will leave/arrive much later than the latest SFO-FAT flight has been for quite some time, and will NOT have routine MX performed on it in FAT. This will further allow improved on-time performance and better connections in SFO. 3) If AS were to expand anywhere out of FAT (aside form adding seats/frequencies on their current routes), they would likely add Orange County or a vacation destination like SJD or HNL. That said, look for most short-term expansion to come in the form of more flights and larger aircraft going to Mexico. SNA and ORD are the only new domestic markets I see happening out of FAT on any airline in the next 5 years, and they are only somewhat likely, but there could be a surprise…

      1. This is 2019, and I believe that United made mainline to SFO a summer seasonal, and ORD started on mainline as well as a surprise, MLM. SWA is probably going to announce service this year maybe, and I have a feeling there might be SJC starting soon as well. We also got Frontier, which is GREAT, because we have increased frequencies to DEN, and it will create a lot of competition. LAS on Frontier is a possibility.

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