Southwest To Fly to Newark Thanks to United/Continental Merger

On Friday afternoon, Southwest announced it came to an agreement with Continental to lease 36 slots at Newark. Holy crap. Has hell frozen over? Nah. Just two hours later, Continental and United announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has found no antitrust issues with the merger. Ahhhh, I get it. That was easy.

I’m talking more about this from the Continental/United perspective at BNET, but here I want to focus on Southwest. An airline that used to consider Islip a New York City airport will now be serving two of the biggest and most congested airports serving New York. Crazy.

Southwest Comes to New Jersey

This slot deal will allow Southwest to have 18 flights in and 18 flights out per day, unless they figure out some magical way to have more departures than arrivals. I’m gonna guess that physics makes that a tough sell. The first flights will begin next March with the full amount of slots going into Southwest’s possession by June.

This move is really funny when you think about it. It’s old-school Southwest meets new-school Southwest. Yes, the airline is flying into one of the most crowded, delay-filled airports in the US. You never would have seen that 10 years ago. But it’s also the tried and true Southwest strategy of bracketing a big metro area. You now have LaGuardia on the east (along with Islip on the waaaaay east) and Newark on the west. (It also conveniently brackets New Jersey with Philly on the South. That’s about as close as you’d want to get to NJ anyway.)

So what is Southwest gonna do with this? Well, 18 flights is a lot. It’s more than double the measly 8 flights they were able to squeeze into LaGuardia. At LaGuardia, there are five daily flights to Chicago/Midway and 3 down to Baltimore. But for Newark, we have some good guidance. Take a look at what the DOJ had to say about this:

The proposed merger would combine the airlines’ largely complementary networks, which would result in overlap on a limited number of routes where United and Continental offer competing nonstop service. The largest such routes are between United’s hub airports and Continental’s hub at Newark airport, where Continental has a high share of service and where there is limited availability of slots, making entry by other airlines particularly difficult.

In other words, Chicago/Midway, Denver, and Houston/Hobby have to be a lock. Baltimore? Probably. (And, as I talk about on BNET today, Continental and United must be happy not to have exact airport competition on these routes.) You could probably fill a schedule with that pretty easily, but there could be other cities as well.

Unlike from LaGuardia, Southwest can run Phoenix or Vegas from Newark, if it so chooses. The reality is that with Southwest’s focus on business travelers, Florida might not make as much sense. Sure, you can always fill those airplanes, but with scarce slots, that doesn’t seem like the best plan. Then again, maybe we’ll see Florida at some off-peak times.

Southwest has to be thrilled to have benefited from the merger here. Apparently the feds were happy with this deal as well. It may not seem like a huge number of slots, and really, it isn’t. For United and Continental’s nearly 450 flights per day, this is a drop in a bucket. Then again, Southwest does know how to make a drop in the bucket feel like a tidal wave.

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