Southwest Airlines Announces New Routes From Chicago (But Not From Chicago Midway)

Most airlines have found themselves in unique positions throughout 2020.

Generally, the legacy carriers (American, Delta, United) have all focused a large amount of attention on transit between business hubs where they can charge a premium for the routes (think New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.).

But with predictions that business travel may not return to pre-pandemic numbers until 2024, the airlines have had to readjust their routes and fleet to focus on leisure travel.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES’ FOCUS ON LEISURE

Southwest Airlines has also found itself in an unusual position. The carrier had planned to expand its route coverage with the 737 Max, but the aircraft has been grounded since March 2019 so the airline has had to place that idea on hold.

However, ironically, COVID-19 has given the airline the opportunity to adjust its routes given the lack of customer demand and surplus of under-utilized aircraft.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the airline announce new flights from several leisure destinations including Miami, Palm Springs, and Montrose (Telluride).

Well, Southwest has just announced plans to expand its footprint in Chicago starting in the first half of 2021. However they won’t be flying to from Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) – one of the busiest airports in Southwest’s network. Rather, they will be departing from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

SWAs NEW DEPARTURES FROM O’HARE

Starting on 14 February 2021, Southwest will offer 20 new departures daily from Chicago O’Hare International airport. The new routes are as follows:

  • Baltimore/Washington (BWI): 4x daily
  • Dallas Love Field (DAL): 4x daily
  • Denver (DEN): 6x daily
  • Nashville (BNA): 4x daily
  • Phoenix (PHX): 2x daily

SWAs OTHER NEW DEPARTURES

Additionally, starting on 11 March 2021, Southwest will offer 10 new departures daily from Colorado Springs Municipal Airport (COS), connecting the Pikes Peak region with direct services. The new routes are as follows:

  • Chicago Midway (MDW): 2x daily
  • Dallas Love Field (DAL): 3x daily
  • Denver (DEN): 4x daily
  • Las Vegas (LAS): 2x daily
  • Phoenix (PHX): 2x daily

FINAL STAMP

It goes without saying that this is big move for the airline that prefers cheaper “alternative” airports; think Chicago Midway (MDW) instead of Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Oakland (OAK) instead of San Francisco (SFO), Dallas Love Field (DAL) instead of Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW), etc.

But I can’t help but wonder what the strategy is here? For example, let’s focus on Chicago. Midway is located on the south side of the city and O’Hare is located on the north side of the city. You can arrive at, both, Midway and O’Hare via the train from downtown but it takes ~45 minutes to arrive at O’Hare as opposed to ~25 minutes at Midway. Traffic while driving is unpredictable so it’s challenging to put a time limit on how long it will take. Midway is much cheaper for SWA to operate out of which is consistent with their low cost operations model. The airline could, perhaps, see an opportunity to snag leisure travelers from the more affluent northern suburbs but is that what is driving this decision?

What do you think about this new announcement and strategy?

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