(The Dallas Morning News) — Southwest has gotten aggressive recently, offering new routes and sales.
The airline is taking advantage of AirTran’s reservations system and offering international flights to destinations it previously hasn’t served. In two years, when Southwest’s new booking system should be up and running, the airline could offer aggressive flights to the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska and even the northern parts of South America.
Southwest has been approved for international flights from Houston Hobby Airport, with the goal of building five gates in an international terminal. Houston’s City Council approved Southwest’s plan last week but the terminal likely won’t be ready until 2015.
The situation in Houston is much like what’s going on in Dallas with D/FW Airport and Love Field. United (and Continental before it) doesn’t want the competition from Southwest out of Hobby and has been vocal about its opposition to expansion.
In Dallas, there are still the restrictions of the Wright Amendment that keep airlines from flying nonstop out of Love Field, except within Texas, to neighboring states and a few other locales. The restrictions will go away in October 2014, and then Southwest will be able to fly nonstop on more domestic routes from Love. Nonstop international flights will not be allowed even to short-haul destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean. Fliers, though, should see a number of direct flights, with one stop but no change of planes, from Dallas to international destinations.
Even though Southwest doesn’t have an agreement with its employee unions to fly long-haul flights over water or to international destinations, the carrier is gearing up for that by acquiring jets that can fly farther. If the employee agreement is approved, Southwest will lease its current fleet of 117-seat Boeing 717 planes to Delta and replace those planes with 143-seat Boeing 737-700 or 175-seat 737-800s. The 737-800s can fly 3,115 nautical miles, so there will likely be some new long-haul destinations offered by Southwest.
Under the AirTran name, Southwest has added service to Cancun from Denver, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta and San Antonio, and to Mexico City from Orange County and San Antonio. Southwest also offers new domestic flights and just got permission to fly between Austin and Washington, D.C. Once Southwest and AirTran merge completely, the carrier could fly to close to 100 destinations from Dallas. There probably won’t be a lot of domestic growth, but there will be to international markets. Look for added connecting flights to and from Hawaii, Alaska and Mexico primarily from the West Coast, from Houston to Mexico and the Caribbean, and from Atlanta to Mexico, the Caribbean and South America.
With all of the mergers in recent years and with the rumor of an American-US Airways merger, it’s a good thing when we see how a low-cost carrier like Southwest competes on routes. Low-cost carriers help to keep fares down to many destinations.
Look for fares on Tuesday afternoon. Eighty percent of fare sales start on Tuesdays, and most end two days later, on Thursdays. The cheapest fares are usually on Tuesday and Wednesday flights. Friday and Sunday are often the most crowded and costly days to fly and sometimes Saturday returns can be high, too. While fares can vary considerably depending on the day of the week you travel and your destination, it is not always the case. Some fares from Virgin America are similar in price, no matter what day of the week you travel, especially to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
If you are planning to travel after Aug. 21, look for Southwest’s anniversary sale. Southwest will have a big party to celebrate its 41st anniversary and the sale should launch around June 19. The travel period should start around Aug. 21 and cover September and October travel and possibly the first couple of weeks of November. Fares could drop by 30-50 percent on some routes, so you may want to hit the computer daily to check for fares.
Tom Parsons is CEO of bestfares.com: mediabestfares.com
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