Southwest Airlines Reveals They Have A Problem At Orange County’s Airport

Orange County airport hates airline passengers, which is ironic considering that they are an airport.

Noise concerns led to a 1985 settlement restricting operations south of the airport. Planes aren’t as noisy as they used to be – by a lot – but there are limits on late night and early morning departures (8 a.m. on Sundays). Orange County’s Board of Supervisors set annual passenger limits for the airport, and that creates a slot program. And though they now say passenger limits are related to environmental concerns, they reward flying planes with empty seats.

Southwest is the largest airline at the airport. They were allocated 44 daily departures for 2023, down from 57 flights in 2022. Basically the airport guesses how full flights will be, and applies that percentage to back into the current 11.8 million allowable passengers. And that determines how many flights they’ll permit.

Apparently they’ve been filling too many seats, because Southwest Airlines let employees know that they have a problem to manage in Orange County.

In an effort to balance the needs of the Orange County community for adequate commercial air transportation facilities and the desire of the local community for environmentally responsible air transportation operations, SNA is requiring all airlines to reduce capacity on flights traveling to/from the airport through the end of the year. As a result, Revenue Management has lowered the lids on our SNA flights operating between September 9 and December 21, 2023. This will not impact existing reservations.

Employees should not overbook any SNA flights through December 31, 2023.

Some flights are being sold to 143 or 175 passengers (no cap), while other flights are capped at 100, or even just 93 passengers. I’m even seeing flights capped at 79 passengers! The good news is if you’re flying in and out of Orange County’s John Wayne Airport you may have a very good chance of an empty middle seat next to you.

I cannot say this enough times: flying planes with empty seats is not better for the environment. In fact, it’s worse. The plane is still flying, and people also have to get places through other means.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. SNA’s passenger cap simply hurts an airline like WN that has no regional jets. The big 4 airlines that use regional jets have an advantage of maintaining their schedule using large regional jets.
    And WN is being hurt by incessant delivery delays for the MAX7 which are both quieter and smaller than the MAX8 or the 737-800 which WN uses at SNA. WN probably will not use the MAX 8 or -800 if the reward is simply to lose slots in the subsequent year.

    The SNA passenger cap doesn’t make sense in one regard but it does in limiting traffic which is part of the goal. SNA does not want to be a mass volume airport; that is LAX’ role.

    and other airlines have had to do what WN has to do in reducing passenger capacity; they just do aircraft swaps in the final quarter of the year. WN has far fewer aircraft options and so has no choice but to cap individual flights.

  2. Just continues to provide that the far left or right are out of touch with today’s world and those of us who live in it.

  3. Burbank is closest airport to me but the vast majority of my flights are from LAX. I would have to live very close to SNA to consider it as a reasonable alternative and it keeps getting worse.

  4. Imagine being so stupid that you buy a house within a flight path of a major airport only to use it for your benefit but piss on it when you don’t.

    I don’t like putting my hand on a hot stove, so I don’t. So, if you don’t like airport noise. I dunno, don’t buy a house under it.

    SNA isn’t going anywhere.

  5. Orange County could have built a true International Airport at the former MCAS El Toro, but instead got a “Great” Park that has been embroiled in controversies and significant delays (shocker). This leaves SNA as the only local airport for the 6th largest County in the U.S.

    Unfortunately the rich folks in Newport Beach successfully lobbied to have the 7a-11p curfews back in the 80s, which remain in place despite significant growth over the past ~4 decades.

    I personally like SNA as it is indeed uncrowded (by design), however for many flights I find myself schlepping up the 405 to LAX, unless I want to have a connection.

  6. The capping of loads due to the settlement agreement isn’t new, but this is the earliest point in time during a given year that it has been applied. And note the quote from Southwest indicates ALL airlines.

  7. At least, if Southwest cannot fill up their planes with enough passengers because of the capacity cap, airlines such as AA who have regional planes will take over.

  8. It’s like the small towns and cities who purposely slow down traffic and add stop signs and lights on their main streets, but then harp on about pollution and climate change, not realizing that the traffic control measures they put in is actually causing more pollution due to the starting and stopping of all the cars. Not serious people.

  9. I’ve never understood the seat cap there. If anything, they should want fewer flights with more seats. Also change the ratio maybe for MAX’s and NEO’s. It’s a much different noise environment than it was 40 years ago.

  10. Tim Dunn – SNA is a premium fare and premium seat airport. There are VERY few regional jets in there. UA will occasionally pop one on SFO, and that’s about it.

  11. Kilo,
    you should check the schedules but it also doesn’t change the reality that other airlines do have multiple aircraft options while WN has precisely two sizes

  12. Let me get this right, this is about noise abatement and environmental concerns? I’ve always known that an emptier aircraft isn’t as noisy, isn’t that common sense?

    The only reason I can think they are trying this is to get more regionals out of SNA, but NEWSFLASH..:WN doesn’t have them!

    Another thing, and this should be obvious to any idiot…when you live near an airport it’s going to be annoying. It’s the reason that real estate isn’t worth as much.

  13. WN got a lot of Jetblue’s slots at LGB (20 miles from SNA). They can flex their capacity in the region.

  14. Hey, they gotta do what they gotta do, but stop hidding behind the green thing. Doesn’t Disney has anything to say abou this?

Comments are closed.