Suffice to say that it’s not business as usual at the major US airlines lately when it comes to network planning. Back in October, Southwest Airlines announced its two latest (surprising) destinations, and today we’ve learned more about what routes we should expect out of these airports.
Southwest expanding service in Chicago & Houston
Southwest Airlines announced plans to expand its footprint in Chicago and Houston. Starting in the first half of 2021, Southwest will launch flights to:
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
- Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
It goes without saying that those are major international airports — among the biggest in the country — but currently Southwest Airlines doesn’t fly to either. Instead Southwest flies to the alternative airports in the cities, where the airline has mega-hubs:
- Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) is one of the busiest airports in Southwest’s network; the airline has been flying to Chicago since 1985
- Houston Hobby Airport (HOU) is another one of the busiest airports in Southwest’s network; between 1980 and 2005 the airline flew to both HOU and IAH, though at that point the airline switched all operations to HOU
As Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly described this move:
“Southwest owes decades of success to our Employees and Customers who have supported our business in Chicago and Houston. Today’s announcement furthers our commitment to both cities as we add service to share Southwest’s value and Hospitality with more leisure and business travelers.”
Southwest’s Chicago O’Hare (ORD) routes
In late October Southwest Airlines announced the details of its new Chicago O’Hare routes. As of February 14, 2021, Southwest Airlines will operate 20 daily departures out of Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Terminal 5, to the following destinations:
- Baltimore (BWI) — 4x daily
- Dallas Love Field (DAL) — 4x daily
- Denver (DEN) — 6x daily
- Nashville (BNA) — 4x daily
- Phoenix (PHX) — 2x daily
The number of destinations is roughly in line with what I expected, but I’m amazed by the number of frequencies. Six daily flights between Chicago O’Hare and Denver, in addition to the nonstop flights out of Chicago Midway? WOW.
Southwest’s Houston Bush (IAH) routes
Southwest Airlines has now announced the details of its new Houston Bush routes. As of April 12, 2021, Southwest Airlines will operate 18 daily departures out of Houston George Bush Intercontinental (IAH), to the following destinations:
- Chicago (MDW) — 2x daily
- Dallas Love Field (DAL) — 6x daily
- Denver (DEN) — 3x daily
- Nashville (BNA) — 3x daily
- New Orleans (MSY) — 4x daily
Southwest’s expansion is fascinating
Back in September Southwest Airlines announced that it would launch flights to Miami International Airport (MIA), complementing its hub at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).
As a Miami resident I totally get and appreciate this, because personally I don’t view FLL as a substitute for MIA. I live so close to MIA and appreciate the convenience, so will do everything I can to avoid FLL. I’d absolutely fly Southwest out of South Florida now, while I wouldn’t have in the past.
So I guess I have the same question for those in Chicago and Houston:
- Are IAH and ORD significantly more convenient for large and lucrative customer bases?
- Or is there more to this? Is Southwest losing out on significant business because people are only searching to ORD and IAH rather than doing wider searches?
As you can see, the new routes out of Chicago O’Hare and Houston Bush are partly to other Southwest Airlines hubs and focus cities. I assume the focus is on serving point-to-point passengers, but I guess this opens up some connections as well (though nothing that wasn’t available through other hubs). Unlike other airlines, Southwest doesn’t rely on partnerships or codeshare agreements to fill planes.
Southwest Airlines will be launching service to Chicago O’Hare and Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is quite a strategy change for the airline.
Southwest Airlines’ route network is both hub-and-spoke and point-to-point. For those making connections, Southwest has some of the most efficient connection opportunities of any airline.
It’s interesting to see the 20 daily flights that Southwest will operate out of Chicago O’Hare, and 18 daily flights that Southwest will operate out of Houston Bush.
What do you make of Southwest expanding service in Chicago and Houston, and in particular the routes chosen?