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Southwest Wants to Fly to LaGuardia, Virgin America Not As Interested in O’Hare

Back at the Southwest Halloween contest last month, the planning group had us try to guess what the next Southwest city would be. Holly Hegeman of PlaneBusiness put down three letters – LGA. It appears that she was right. Southwest is trying to put together a deal that would secure slots at New York’s 08_11_19 southwestnycLaGuardia airport. Meanwhile, Virgin America is saying that it can’t get gates at O’Hare even though the airline already said it would be flying there. Sounds like one airline is far more determined to grow than the other.

Let’s start with Southwest. The airline has put a bid in to pay $7.5 million for ATA’s operating certificate. The only reason they appear to want this is for the LaGuardia slots to fill the giant hole in their route map. (I believe they lost their Washington/National slots long ago, so that shouldn’t be part of the package.) Now don’t freak out, Southwest employees. This isn’t yet another codeshare announcement. ATA is toast, and this is just an effort to buy the slots to be flown by Southwest airplanes.

Clearly this is a big deal, but this doesn’t mean Southwest will get in immediately. It’s always possible that someone else will put a bigger bid down for the assets, and then we could see a bidding war. (Grab some popcorn!) But even if they don’t win this round, they’re clearly stating that they plan on finally entering New York City. It’s going to happen at some point, and I’d put my bet down that Chicago/Midway will be one of the first markets. (Yep, those Delta flights on the same route would be gone in two minutes.)

They’re not going to take over New York with this initial move, but they will certainly cause a big headache for the other carriers. It’s bold, and it’s a smart move. Southwest needs to be in New York, especially if it wants to be a bigger player in the business world.

On the other side of the coin, we find Virgin America. The airline had announced plans to start flying to Chicago/O’Hare this fall, but then that was pushed back. Now a Chicago Tribune article says that Virgin America can’t find gates so it may decide soon not to go into the airport after all.

Something here doesn’t smell right. I have no doubt that they can get gates if they want them. They could always fly out of the mostly (but not entirely) international Terminal 5 since those gates are controlled by the city. Or I imagine some airline would be willing to sell them a gate or at least partial use of one. It says they’ve only spoken with United, American, and Delta. What about US Airways? I’m pretty sure those guys would sell their mothers if they could make enough money on the deal. Or what about one of the many other carriers that fly to the airport?

It sounds to me like they may want gates, but they don’t want them THAT much. Unless the Tribune article is inaccurate, it just doesn’t sound like they’re really exhausting all options here. Definitely an interesting contrast between two airlines’ efforts to get into crowded airports. One is willing to go a lot further to make it happen.

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