At a time when fewer people are flying and airlines are struggling, Southwest recently announced they will begin service to two new destinations. Flights to New York’s LaGuardia will begin on June 28th and Boston’s Logan International’s service will start on August 16th.
To promote the new routes, Southwest is offering excellent fares. I checked on Tampa Bay to LaGuardia (my preferred airport when flying into NYC) for the dates of August 18-25 and came up with a round-trip “Wanna Get Away” fare of $257.40, inclusive of all airport fees and taxes. Not bad, considering summer is high season for NY. From Chicago to LaGuardia for the same dates the fare is $239.20. Both examples were for early morning schedules rather than some middle-of-the-night red eye flight, and while the Tampa to LaGuardia example required a change in Baltimore, the Chicago flight was non-stop.
Flights to Boston Logan were equally affordable. From Tampa the fare for a round-trip afternoon flight was $200.40 with a stop in Baltimore, and $249.80 from Chicago.
Southwest’s expansion into these two markets is intriguing. Their successful business model has historically focused on serving alternative airports rather than the major metropolitan airports. For example, prior to this recent announcement, Southwest served Boston through the nearby smaller airports at Providence, Rhode Island and Manchester, New Hampshire, and travelers flying to NYC were limited to Long Island’s Islip. (Southwest still serves Chicago through Midway rather than O’Hare, and Los Angeles through the samller regional airports at Burbank, Orange County, and Ontario, rather than LAX). Could this latest move signal a change in Southwest’s marketing model?
Already, Southwest’s move has ratcheted up price wars between carriers serving the lucrative Washington, D.C. to New York route. Upon announcing their new destinations, Southwest also revealed they would make available new one-way flights between Baltimore (considered an alternative airport for Washington, D.C.) and LaGuardia for as little as $49. United Airlines, American Airlines, and Northwest Airlines are expected to match the deal, as they did during JetBlue’s recent short-term $39 promotion for one-way fares between D.C. and NYC. Passengers currently pay an average of $75 for this route. Southwest’s move is great news for the consumer, as long as it doesn’t negaively impact the profitability of the only U.S. airline consistently able to operate in the black. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves.