Well, that was fast. As a follow-up to my January 31st post analyzing the early returns on the newly unrestricted Love Field, per the Airline Biz Blog at the Dallas Morning News, Southwest today formally announced the nine new cities that will be receiving nonstop service from DAL thanks to its acquisition of gate space from United:
Southwest Airlines, which announced nearly two weeks ago that it was picking up two more gates at Dallas Love Field, revealed the names of the nine cities that will get new service out of Dallas on April 8.
The cities include Charleston, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Memphis, Tenn.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Panama City Beach, Fla.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle/Tacoma; and Sacramento and San Jose, Calif.
Memphis, Milwaukee, and Seattle had been previously announced, so the new additions are Charleston, Columbus, Indianapolis, Panama City, Portland, Sacramento, and San Jose. Panama City will begin Saturday-only service in March, ramping up to daily service on April 8. All other routes begin service on April 8; all are once daily, except for Charleston, which will be Saturday-only, and Memphis, which will be twice daily. In addition, one additional daily flight will be added to existing nonstop markets Ft. Lauderdale, Oakland, and Orange County. Introductory fares start at $49 each way to MEM, and $99 each way to PDX, SEA, SMF, and SJC.
For reference, back on the 31st, I predicted Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Salt Lake City, with perhaps Cleveland, Portland, and Raleigh. Boy, did I ever whiff badly. Portland made it, but none of my other predictions panned out. On the plus side, I speculated that we’d see somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 additional flights a day with the United gate acquisition. The actual number was 13, bringing Southwest’s total operation to 166 flights a day.
A couple of thoughts here, first on the positive side. Anecdotal evidence has suggested that WN’s service to Southern California and the Bay Area had been exceeding expectations, and the new service to San Jose, along with the increased frequencies to OAK and SNA, seem to back that up. It’s also pretty apparent that Southwest intends to fight aggressively against its new competitor, Virgin America, with the appeal of blanketing both entire regions with nonstop and no plane change flights instead of just a handful to LAX and SFO. While not as large or well-known as Austin, the Metroplex is also home to a large number of telecommunications and technology consulting firms, many with large state government contracts, thus SJC and SMF make sense from a business perspective (though a good number of the employees who work at these firms live in Irving, Richardson, and Collin County, so we’ll have to see whether flying out of DAL will appeal to these potential customers). In addition, after South and Southwest Florida became prohibitively expensive prior to the housing crash, a surprisingly large number of semi-wealthy North Texans built vacation and retirement homes in “Lower Alabama”, with a sizeable Texan population now located in the Florida panhandle; thus, ECP would seem a logical destination. PDX has also been a rumored addition for some time, along with SEA, so I’m not terribly surprised to see it on the list.
I have to say, though, I’m puzzled by Charleston, Columbus, and Indianapolis. Indianapolis is home to a growing health care technology industry, an industry that is also on the upswing in North Texas, but there aren’t any obvious major connections to suggest demand for nonstop traffic. Ditto for Columbus; if anything, Cincinnati would have been a more logical choice given Kroger’s growing presence in the Metroplex. But perhaps the biggest head-scratcher is Charleston. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful city – but why waste limited gate space on a once-a-week leisure flight? You’d figure they’d be better off with service to Charlotte, where big bank traffic between two large financial centers would surely yield some pricey business traffic.
It’s also interesting that, at least for now, Southwest has decided not to engage AA and Delta in “mid-tier” hubs, notably CLT, DTW, and MSP. It’s not that WN has completely shied away from competitor hubs; after all, it quickly moved to start service to ATL, DCA, LAX, and LGA, for example. All three cities would seem to have strong demand from North Texas for various reasons, and I wouldn’t think one flight a day would provoke a strong response – especially to DTW and MSP, which Delta doesn’t even serve from DAL, and only offers regional jet service from DFW. Could this be a case of not wanting to “poke the bear”, what with Delta’s ongoing disagreement with the city of Dallas regarding gate space at Love Field, with more to come later? We shall see.