The Significance of Southwest Adding Orange County from San Francisco

I know it’s just one route, but Southwest’s decision to enter the San Francisco – Orange County route with five flights a day on May 9 is a very telling move with a lot of implications.

First of all, this marks the last route flown by United mainline aircraft within California that Southwest wasn’t flying. Years ago, United was the king of California, but that status has been in decline for a long time. In fact, once we get rid of all the little prop flying within California, there are only five regional jet routes that United flies and Southwest doesn’t:

  • Burbank – San Francisco
  • Los Angeles – Fresno
  • Los Angeles – San Diego (one regional jet flight a day, the rest are props)
  • Ontario – San Francisco
  • Palm Springs – San Francisco

We’ll probably never see Southwest in the LA – San Diego market since that short route is almost solely for connections beyond LA, and I doubt we’ll see Southwest in Palm Springs or Fresno anytime soon. But those Burbank and Ontario routes to San Francisco will probably happen one of these days. It’s just a matter of further connecting the dots as United continues to retrench. Burbank-San Francisco, for example, had mainline United flying until recently when it became all United Express.

The other implication is for Virgin America. Southwest is clearly making it quite clear to everyone that it considers 07_08_28 wnvxCalifornia its turf and it isn’t going to mess around. It showed it to Virgin America when it came back to San Francisco and when it started LA to San Francisco flights. (The image at left was originally from my post on the LA-SF flights.)

Lately, one of the routes on Virgin America’s list was San Francisco – Orange County, when it could get the slots. At least, that’s the story that came out in December. There are slot restrictions at Orange County, but Southwest has either found more or reshuffled its existing flights. It wouldn’t surprise me if they got more, because with Aloha’s demise and other flight cutbacks, there were slots to be had.

My guess is that Virgin America will still try to enter the market, because they want to serve all the big destinations from San Francisco, but it’s going to be a lot harder to make money on the route with Southwest plying the skies as well as United and American.

I’ll leave you with one incredible stat from the Southwest press release . . . they currently have 362 flights per day within California. Wow.

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