By CBSLA Staff

LONG BEACH (CBSLA) — Southwest Airlines announced Thursday that it will begin daily nonstop flights from Long Beach Airport to five more cities beginning in March.

The newly added flights will travel directly to Chicago, Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, and Reno.

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“We’ve been working with Southwest and are very pleased to see a diversity of destinations for residents and travelers,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement. “Once this pandemic is over, we look forward to our airport playing a key role in our economic recovery.”

With the newest additions, the airline now flies nonstop to 13 U.S. cities from Long Beach Airport.

Last month, the airline announced the airport will serve as Southwest’s only nonstop connection between Hawaii and the Greater Los Angeles area.

“These new routes bring more reach for Long Beach with nonstop service to mid-continent business centers and offer our customers in the eastern half of the country the ease of experience of Long Beach Airport,” said Adam Decaire, Southwest Airline’s vice president of Network Planning.

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Southwest will likely operate about 25 daily flights in March, and 34 starting in April, airport officials said, noting that flight-slot utilization requirements at the airport have been temporarily waived for all airlines due to the pandemic.

As a result of COVID-19, the airport has experienced a steep decline in passenger traffic. Currently, about 20 flights are operating a day and passenger numbers from October are down 81% compared with the same period last year, according to the airport.

The airport said expects the new Southwest flights to significantly boost those numbers.

“We encourage our passengers to follow current travel advisories, but that doesn’t stop us from looking forward to the day when travel returns around the country,” said Airport Director Cynthia Guidry. “When the time is right, Long Beach Airport is here to welcome our travelers with even more destinations and connections than before.”

A number of measures, including a face-covering requirement, physical distancing and new disinfecting protocols, have been instituted to enhance passenger safety for those who have essential travel needs, the airport said.

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)