Southwest Airlines Will Expand To Houston Intercontinental And Chicago O’Hare

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?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Southwest is anticipating a much smaller United and possibly a bankrupt American and they will survive and thrive post pandemic.

  2. Game changer! Midway is on south side of chicago, and not conventient for North side people (at least 50 mile drive), so this is a big deal. People knock SW for boarding process, but the 2 free checked bags and free refund / cancellation was super conventient (pre-covid before everyone offered this).

  3. I have a strong feeling southwest got a sweet deal on landing fees. I know MIA offers very low landing fees to new airlines (frontier). I hope they also add service to dfw jfk and go back ewr

  4. Not gonna happen at DFW until at least 2025 as they have to give up
    Gate space at Love if they do per the Wright Amendment solution

  5. Whether this is worth anything to passengers has everything to do with which routes they’ll operate. If they’ll only operate to hubs then meh…

  6. In my opinion, American lost interest in both Miami and Chicago (and Los Angeles and New York) several years ago, so Southwest sees an opportunity. American seems to be hanging tough in Dallas, Charlotte, and Philadelphia, so don’t expect Southwest to make a move there.

    Similarly, United seems to have lost interest in Houston and Chicago, and to a lesser extent Los Angeles and Washington DC. I’m not surprised to see Southwest seek to grow in Houston and Chicago. I don’t expect to see them challenge United at Washington Dulles, because Southwest already has a huge hub at BWI. United is hanging tough at San Francisco, Denver, and Newark, so I don’t expect Southwest to make a move there.

  7. For the record, southwest caters to a “certain demographic”
    Not mine!
    AA facilities and aircraft are superior!
    If you want lonf lines,crying babies and overhead bins packed with plastic garbage bags,etc.
    FLY SOUTHWEST!
    AMERICAN AND UNITED WILL PREVAIL!
    DELTA HAS OLD OUTDATED AIRCRAFT!
    NO THANKS!
    TALK ABOUT THAT FOR ONCE!
    OR TALK ABOUT DELTA INVESTING IN VIRGIN AMERICA AND LATAM BITH BANKRUPT!
    ALSO, THE OIL REFINERY THEY CANT SELL.
    ALONG WITH JFK AT A STANDSTILL BECAUSE EUROPE IS CLOSING BORDERS!
    DISCUSS…..

  8. Makes perfect sense as when Southwest switched to a new reservations system a couple of years ago, one of the justifications was to codeshare with an international carrier. Having service in international facilities such as ORD & IAH will make for a better passenger experience changing planes

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