Southwest’s Interesting New York LaGuardia Schedule Construction

Yesterday, Southwest finally announced its schedule for New York/LaGuardia beginning June 28, and it’s an interesting one. The slots they acquired from defunct ATA allowing seven daily roundtrips have been split into four daily to Chicago/Midway and three daily to Baltimore. They were also able to add a fifth daily Midway flight by scheduling a late night arrival and early morning departure outside of the slot-controlled time period. But what’s interesting is how these flights are set up. Here’s the schedule:

Initial Southwest New York LaGuardia Schedule

The only surprise about the Midway flights is that they didn’t schedule more of them. That’s a market that has Delta in there with nine flights a day in direct competition, and there are a ton of flights on American and United into O’Hare as well. With that backdrop, Southwest needed a healthy schedule, and they’ve got one. There are a couple of holes, however, so I would have thought they’d do more, but it does a decent job of covering the business traveler. It will be interesting to see how long Delta sticks with this schedule under the price pressure that Southwest has introduced. Maybe they can sell some of those slots over to Southwest.

The Baltimore flights are a little more interesting. With only three flights a day, that doesn’t appeal to a business traveler at all. Let’s not forget that there are easy train options to run that route as well, so I don’t see this as competitive at all. I assume they did this for the connecting opportunities, and that’s why I thought I’d see something like we see in Dallas where there are plenty of one-stops to major markets, but that’s not what they’ve done.

Everyone is well aware of the operational issues at LaGuardia. Things get jammed up quite easily so Southwest appears to have isolated the airplanes here, at least after they leave LaGuardia.

If you look at my diagram above, you’ll see that six of the eight flights into LaGuardia start somewhere else, and a seventh definitely will be starting its day in Chicago at 640a. But only one of the flights out of LaGuardia goes beyond its next destination, and that’s the first flight in the morning which will probably be reasonably on-time since it will have the whole night to sit before leaving.

Where exactly are those other six airplanes going when they land at Midway and Baltimore? They’ll have to continue on to other places, but I bet they aren’t using the same flight number because they’ve probably built in a pretty big time cushion in Midway before they send them out again. For that reason, they won’t want to sell them as through flights.

It’s an interesting strategy in that it allows them to build a bigger buffer so that planes that are late leaving LaGuardia won’t screw up the rest of the system. But it makes it a harder sell for them to appeal to passengers flying out of New York. There are plenty of nonstop flights on other airlines to many of Southwest’s cities, and now they’ll just show up as connections at the bottom of the heap.

If, however, you assume that Southwest isn’t trying to cater to business travelers in New York but rather those going to New York, then this isn’t that bad of a plan. The flights into New York will show up as direct flights, and they can worry about the return options later. Still, I’m surprised to not see direct options into LaGuardia from strongholds like Houston, Nashville, Denver, and Oakland, among others.

What I think we can all assume is that Southwest isn’t done here. At some point, they’ll get more slots, and they’ll start connecting the dots better, but for now they at least have their foot in the door.


10 Responses to Southwest’s Interesting New York LaGuardia Schedule Construction

  1. The Traveling Optimist says:

    “Gotta start somewhere” is what it sounds like and the schedule plays to their strengths, both of which happen to be relatively nearby.

    BWI has no real service to New York. One or two JFK flights timed for international connections and Continental Express to Newark. 3-a-day to Baltimore gives that city legitimate coverage to the Big Apple without overkill. In that outlook it doesn’t seem that Washington was really much of a consideration in setting the timing. If someone WANTS to go to DC they can always take the MARC train from BWI to get there.
    If BWI-LGA local is the target market, 3 flights seems the standard spread to “test” the waters before dropping more in later.

    LGA-MDW also has the EL to get in to town and it’s a closer ride. Since WN so proudly boasts that 80% of its traffic is local they’re not worried about beyond connections but will offer them if someone wants them. Like Cranky said, this spread seems more for people going to NYC than connecting out of it. Loyal Southwest customers in both cities are probably rejoicing.

  2. A says:

    It will be interesting to see how long Delta sticks with this schedule under the price pressure that Southwest has introduced.

    Since WN moved into MSP Delta/NW has slashed fares to ORD and MDW to less than what Southwest is charging. Sounds like more of the same from the old Northwest action plan in trying to undercut the competition at their hub airports. Wonder if Delta will try something similar at LGA. If so, will it work? Southwest is far tougher competition than the startups that have historically taken on NW at their hub airports. In an environment where we have overcapacity almost everywhere who will stick it out longest, legacy airline or WN?

  3. Oliver says:

    Great work CF! Nice breakdown of the schedule.

    Southwest’s move into LGA is really for Southwest frequent fliers. It would be interesting if Southwest were to garner up local NYC traffic. Local NYC travellers have so many choices, I would find it surprising they would choose Southwest. But, anything could happen though!

  4. Zack Rules says:

    “Maybe they can sell some of those slots over to Southwest.”
    In this lifetime?
    Love the blog though

  5. Kevin says:

    To The Traveling Optimist: For July 2009, US Airways Express operates 7 BWI-LGA and 8 LGA-BWI flights, spread evenly throughout the day. That seems real enough for the local (business) market that prefers to go by plane vs. train.

  6. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Forgot about USAirways, guy. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. CF says:

    Zack Rules – I meant to say that tongue-in-cheek, to some extent, but it still could happen. I bet someone will sell Southwest slots. It’s just a matter of whom.

  8. Marks says:

    ] For that reason, they won’t want to sell them as through flights.

    OTOH, if there are other flights coming in late because of the La G issues, then those flights might just turn into perfect through flights. That then might provide some revenue boost – eg your frequent flying business person who knows that there are likely to be delays on any given day and wants some security in travel plans might select that on the basis that they will be able to meet schedule.

    ie are they making their schedule based on what they think it will be rather than what it should be if the LG issues did not crop up regularly.

  9. Robert S says:

    I’m really glad to see the LGA departures not scheduled beyond BWI/MDW. This should help cut down serious delays in other markets away from LGA that could be routinely hit with big delays. I’ve already been concerned enough with the operational hit from PHL and SFO which are often a mess with weather. LGA raises the bar for making sure they figure out how to run service to often delayed airports without deteriorating on-time flights through other parts of the network.

  10. Scott says:

    I’m not surprised to see certain long-haul destinations such as Denver from LaGuardia – remember there is a perimeter in place for LaGuardia service, that only a few slots are exempt. If I remember correctly, it’s 1200 miles or so.

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