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Southwest continues to expand network, challenges United

written by Hannah Dowling | December 11, 2020

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-8 MAX, pictured at Las Vegas International (Tomás Del Coro/Wikicommons).southwe

US low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines has continued to expand its network despite the subdued conditions of the pandemic, with 16 new daily non-stop domestic routes.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly announced the expansion on Thursday, noting that the airline’s move could shake things up for traditional rivals such as United Airlines. 

Notably, the low-cost airline has announced new routes servicing Chicago O’Hare and Houston George Bush Intercontinental, two major United Airlines hubs.

Southwest will even go head-to-head with United on its new Denver-Houston Bush Intercontinental route. Southwest has introduced three return trips on this route per day.

The low-cost carrier has also expanded its network to include Palm Springs, California; Sarasota, Florida; and Jackson, Mississippi.

The newly announced destinations are intended to be permanent additions to Southwest’s network, Kelly said at the virtual event on Thursday.

“[And] there’s more coming,” he added.


Kelly said the marginal cost of adding a flight is “very modest”, assuming there is demand for the route, particularly given the fact that the airline is currently 20 per cent overstaffed, and has hundreds of its planes parked as overall travel demand remains depressed.

It follows announcements that Southwest would reinstate all middle seats for sale on flights from this month, and earlier, tone down its sanitisation efforts in order to “return to a standard turnaround time” between flights.

At the virtual conference, Kelly stated that the airline had not experienced negative repercussions or an increase in cancellations due to its policy changes, however did note a spike in cancellations, which it attributed to the rising number of COVID cases reported in the previous weeks in the US.

United Airlines reported a similar trend in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, as the US approached nearly 200,000 new COVID cases being diagnosed per day.

According to United, the week before Thanksgiving saw “a deceleration in system bookings and an uptick in cancellations as a result of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases”.


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