Suffice to say that it’s not business as usual at the major US airlines lately when it comes to network planning. Southwest Airlines is back today with yet another major announcement that will surprise many (including me!).
Southwest expanding service in Chicago & Houston
Southwest Airlines has 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
Southwest Airlines hasn’t yet revealed just how much of a presence we should expect at these airports.
As Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly describes 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.”
This is fascinating…
Recently 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?
Presumably in all of these cases the airline will just be serving point-to-point passengers, with those connecting still being funneled through 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 largely uses a hub-and-spoke system, and also has some of the most efficient connection opportunities. Operating point-to-point routes out of co-terminal airports sure is something I wouldn’t have expected from Southwest a year ago.
What do you make of Southwest expanding service in Chicago and Houston?