Pondering Southwest’s Big Schedule Change for Dallas, Washington, and AirTran

Southwest does scheduling differently compared to any of the legacy carriers. The airline only allows bookings a few months out, but when it does come out, it’s pretty much set in stone. This most recent schedule extension, was a huge one for Southwest. It not only showed the first post-Wright Amendment schedule in Dallas but it also revealed plans for Washington domination and it finalized the end of AirTran.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t write about this earlier, it’s because Southwest wouldn’t provide the full details of what was changing. Sure, there were a few documents that had pieces of it, but it wasn’t comprehensive like the airline used to provide. It didn’t include the frequency cuts, and that’s a big part of the story. So I waited until the schedules were loaded publicly for easy access. (And boo on you, Southwest.)

Southwest Dallas and DC Schedules

Dallas/Love Field Schedule
It was 8 long years ago that the Wright Amendment was killed off, but with an 8 year implementation timeline it seemed like it would never actually happen. This October, it finally does. The Wright Amendment restricted flights from Dallas/Love Field to only nearby states. With those provisions off, Southwest was able to fly wherever it wanted. We had heard about the planned markets before, but we never saw the expected number of flights in each. Now we know.

Southwest Daily Flights American Daily from DFW
Atlanta 4 10
Baltimore 3 5
Chicago/Midway 6 18 (O’Hare)
Denver 3 10
Ft Lauderdale 2 6
Las Vegas 4 12
Los Angeles 4 17
Nashville 2 9
New York/LaGuardia 3 14
Orange County 1 10
Orlando 3 10
Phoenix 4 13
San Diego 2 10
Tampa 2 7
Washington/National 6 11
Total 49 151

Southwest certainly went broader here and that meant it couldn’t really get even close to the level of frequency that American operates out of Dallas/Ft Worth. With gates at Love Field capped, Southwest can never match that kind of frequency. But will it be enough? In leisure markets, I’m sure it’ll be fine. But will that one 1 flight to Orange County really make a difference to the business traveler? Are 4 flights to LA really going to compete for the traveler who needs more options?

Southwest will, of course, continue to have connecting options to fill in its schedule, but it’s just not the same. That being said, this isn’t a bad schedule.

Of course, with all this happening, it was inevitable that Southwest would pull down the number of flights it had on existing routes. Before, for example, people flying from LA to Dallas had to stop somewhere because of the Wright Amendment, and El Paso and Albuquerque were right along the way. With those passengers no longer needing to connect over those cities, the demand for flights drops. And Southwest had to adjust.

By November 2, when the new schedule is fully in place, we’ll see the following cuts to/from Dallas:

Today Nov 2 % Change
Albuquerque 9 5 -44%
Amarillo 5 4 -20%
Austin 12 10 -17%
Birmingham 4 3 -25%
El Paso 6 4 -33%
Houston/Hobby 25 21 -16%
Kansas City 9 6 -33%
Little Rock 5 3 -40%
Lubbock 5 5 0%
Midland/Odessa 5 5 0%
New Orleans 8 8 0%
Oklahoma City 4 3 -25%
St Louis 9 7 -22%
San Antonio 13 10 -23%
Tulsa 5 3 -40%
Wichita 2 2 0%
Total 126 99 -21%

Other related routes were hit as well. With nobody needing to connect over Amarillo to get to Denver anymore, The Amarillo – Denver route couldn’t support itself. That’s gone in this schedule. The rest appear to be sticking around but there are cuts. For example, LA to El Paso drops from 3 to 2. And Chicago to Kansas City and St Louis both drop from 10 to 6. I would expect future changes to unfurl here over time. Southwest doesn’t know exactly how it will all work in practice since this is such a massive change.

Washington/National Schedule
While the Dallas change was the biggest is size, there were some seriously interesting moves in Washington that are more exciting to watch. Take a look.

DC Airport Destination Today Nov 2
National Atlanta 6 6
National Akron/Canton 0 1
National Austin 1 1
National Chicago/Midway 0 9
National Dallas/Love 0 6
National Houston/Hobby 2 4
National Ft Myers 1 1
National Indianapolis 0 2
National Kansas City 1 1
National Milwaukee 4 3
National Nashville 0 3
National New Orleans 0 2
National St Louis 2 3
National Tampa 0 2
Dulles Chicago/Midway 5 2
Dulles Denver 2 3
Dulles Las Vegas 0 1
Dulles San Diego 0 1

The bulk of these changes are due to Southwest acquiring more slots at National thanks to the American/US Airways merger settlement. Keep in mind that the frequencies don’t say everything here. A lot of these are current AirTran markets using the 717, so when Southwest moves in with 737s, the number of seats goes up. That’s why Milwaukee gets a frequency cut. Other markets grow even though the number of frequencies don’t change. This is an even bigger increase than it looks.

But possibly the more interesting piece here is what Southwest is doing at Dulles. Southwest already dominates in Baltimore, and that covers many of the Maryland suburbs of DC quite nicely. Now it will have a serious schedule at National to cater to the crowds in DC and Northern Virginia. But it can’t serve long haul flights from National thanks to the perimeter rule.

That might not matter if you aren’t looking at the city holistically, but Southwest is, and it wants to be relevant. That’s why it’s relaunching Dulles to Vegas and launching for the first time Dulles to San Diego. Yes, Midway gets cut big time, but that’s because it can be served from National. Denver, however, gets an extra flight since it can’t. These are cities that are already served from Baltimore, but now Southwest can bracket the city.

It’s yet another thing that should concern United. It’s getting eaten alive in DC from every angle.

AirTran’s Final Death
Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran has taken forever to digest, but come December 29 of this year, the AirTran brand will disappear for good and the integration will be done. On the 28th, AirTran will operate its last flights between Atlanta and Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Ft Lauderdale, Ft Myers, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Orlando, Philly, Pittsburgh, Raleigh/Durham, St Louis, and Tampa. In addition, there will be flights from Orlando and Tampa to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. After that, frequencies will convert over to Southwest and AirTran will be toast.

This is a welcome move, not because AirTran will be gone but because the codesharing integration between the two was clunky and confusing.

Whew, that’s one heck of a schedule, no? The Dallas moves are interesting but unsurprising. It’s the broader move on Washington that has really caught my eye. Between US Airways leaving Star Alliance, Frontier creating a focus city at Dulles, and Southwest targeting Washington on a broad scale, United has to be feeling the heat.

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