The old rules about who flies where, and what customers an airline goes after, are being rewritten during the pandemic era. Southwest Airlines, already strong in South Florida, announced last month they would expand into Miami. Traditionally they’ve shied away from such expensive airports – at least until they began getting slots and gates at congested airports in the Northeast, which accelerated with the AirTran merger.
Southwest looks like it’s continuing its incursion into large airports, announcing today that they’ll serve both Chicago O’Hare and Houston Intercontinental next year.
- They are already the dominant carrier at Houston Hobby
- And the dominant carrier at Chicago Midway, assets they picked up from defunct American Trans Air
The largest U.S. domestic airline is already a significant player in both the Houston and Chicago markets. They’re doubling down by extending service to a second airport in each city. Just as they’re taking American Airlines head on in Miami, they’ll be taking on United (Houston Intercontinental) and United and American (Chicago O’Hare) at those major carrier hubs.
Neither Houston Intercontinental (IAH) nor Chicago O’Hare (ORD) are slot controlled, though O’Hare is ‘schedule-facilitated’. Still it can be a challenge to get necessary gates especially at O’Hare. At least that was the case in normal times. Expecting fewer flights may mean an opening for airport real estate, there’s a chance for airlines to expand. And doubling down in major markets where there’s already a presence is one way to do that – as well as taking on competitors who may be seen as weakened (American is likely the weakest major U.S. carrier, with the most debt by far, but United whose route network skews heavily international is weak too).
Both Chicago and Houston are sprawling regions, and serving both airports at each gives them convenient access to more potential travelers.
Southwest Airlines no longer limits itself to secondary airports and that was true even before Covid, and was true even beyond congested airports they picked up a presence at through the AirTran acquisition. Having added plans for Miami, Houston, and Chicago – and focusing on United and American hubs – could Dallas Fort Worth be on the horizon?