The Winners of the Coveted Slots at Washington/National and New York/La Guardia Are . . .

Remember that whole Delta/US Airways slot swap deal? US Airways gave most of its slots at New York’s La Guardia airport to Delta in exchange for most of Delta’s slots at Washington’s National Airport along with a couple of other considerations. As part of that, Delta had to put 24 slot pairs up to auction for new entrants. That happened last week, and now, we know the winners . . . sort of.

The La Guardia Slot Auction

At La Guardia, there were two bundles of 8 slot pairs being auctioned off. That means that two airlines will get the right to operate 8 takeoffs and 8 landings per day at good times. The bidders had to be either new entrants or airlines with very small presences at the airport already. One of the winners has been officially announced . . . WestJet.

That’s right. Those crazy Canucks are swooping in to fly 8 daily trips to La Guardia. It’s not a surprise that WestJet was interested. The rumors were that WestJet’s proposed partnership with Southwest ended over something closely related to La Guardia. See, WestJet wanted to be able to partner with multiple airlines in order to help feed its network. This was important at La Guardia, where Southwest couldn’t add much. Southwest supposedly didn’t want to see WestJet partner with anyone else. The partnership ended so that WestJet would be free to pursue a life of religious fulfillment, er, um, multiple partnerships.

Earlier this year, Delta launched an interline partnership with WestJet. I imagine we might see it get a little cozier now that Delta will have so many flights that could feed WestJet. Someone is going to need to fill those 8 flights, most if not all of which are undoubtedly bound for Toronto.

But what about the other eight? That’s a bit more of a mystery. Though it hasn’t officially been announced, Bloomberg reports that JetBlue won that bid. It also is said to have picked up the 8 slot pairs down at Washington/National as well. That’s a big win for the Blue Crew.

JetBlue’s interest should be no surprise. It already runs just shy of a dozen daily flights out of La Guardia to Ft Lauderdale, Orlando, and West Palm Beach. At National, it has nine with flights to Boston, Ft Lauderdale, and Orlando. This will help the airline expand its reach at those airports with a nice chunk of new slots.

So is anything surprising about this whole thing? You bet. The most surprising thing is that Southwest didn’t win anything. It has a gajillion* dollars in the bank (*rough estimate) and certainly could have outbid anyone if it wanted. It has made serving big cities a priority lately as a way to get its customers wherever they need to go in the US.

Southwest fought its way into La Guardia when it got 8 slot pairs there to start flights to Baltimore and Chicago. It gained more when it acquired AirTran, which has about 20 slot pairs. It acquired its first beachhead at National with AirTran’s 12 slots there. So you would think it would have been hungry for more, and in fact, it has expressed great interest in the past. It just somehow got outbid this time.

So, Southwest fans won’t be thrilled, but JetBlue lovers should be. There will be more JetBlue flights coming soon, assuming the deal gets done. And Canadians can rejoice that they will have another option to get to New York.

Now we just have to wait for all the “i’s” to be dotted and “t’s” crossed. Oh yeah, and we’re still waiting for final governmental approval in a couple areas. But things are starting to shape up nicely.

If you want to follow this closely, head on over to Things in the Sky. Dan Webb is keeping a close eye on this.

[Original photo via Flickr user Bob n Renee/CC 2.0]

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