Southwest to Start LAX – SFO

Schedule Changes, Southwest, Virgin America

Southwest finally (re)started flights to San Francisco yesterday with Vegas, Chicago/Midway, and San Diego flights hitting the runway. 07_08_28 wnvxBut that was overshadowed by Southwest’s long-anticipated announcement that they would enter the LAX-SFO market on November 4, pretty much the only major intra-California route they don’t serve today.

The big dog in this market continues to be United with 16 flights a day each way in the market, but American has 6 in the market and Alaska has a mere 2 as well. With those big guys ruling the roost, fares remained relatively high in the market and local passengers fled to Southwest to fly to Oakland or San Jose instead. In fact, Southwest drew so much traffic to Oakland that they fly LAX-OAK 20 times a day. (These new flights put them over 100 daily flights between the LA Basin and the SF Bay Area.)

Low cost carriers have always had an interest in taking on the big guys, but there has only been activity in this market recently. Frontier took a shot at it but failed quickly and they pulled out earlier this summer. Now, Virgin America thinks they can be the first to make it work since the days of PSA and AirCal with their 6 daily flights. Southwest has opted to one-up that attempt with 8 runs a day.

According to a Southwest blog post today, they think their low fares are going to be the catalyst for the market to work. Had they said that a couple months ago, I might have believed it, but now Virgin America has fares down at the bottom end of the spectrum already. It’s going to be a bloodbath as these guys fight it out. Could we see the return of $19 fares? One can only hope.

But low fares aren’t everything. In a market like this, schedule is of number one importance to the customers who are going to make or break this service – the business travelers. Let’s take a look at the schedules:

07_08_28 wnvxskedcompare

As you can see, Virgin America has some mighty big holes in their schedule. You can forget about mid-morning travel, and with the last flight at 625p, you can’t even do an early dinner. Meanwhile, Southwest has a flight near 8p and they never go more than 2 hours without having a flight. That’s a much better schedule and should be more attractive to the business traveler.

You can argue that Virgin America will have better service, live tv, and all that stuff if you’d like. But on a sub-1 hour flight, nobody cares. Just get me there when I need to be there. So far, Southwest appears to have the edge in this race.

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5 comments on “Southwest to Start LAX – SFO

  1. Love the blog…but felt I had to get in this one. Southwest is really the big dog in the market, not United. I understand Virgin and SFO, but the fog at SFO can be killer and when they shutdown the second runway delays stack up quickly. The only people confined to SFO for short hops are SFO residents, less then 900,000 strong. Peninsula, South Bay inc. San Jose and East Bay residents, which make up the majority of the Bay Area population (San Jose is something like the 9th largest city in the country, bigger than San Fran) all flock to Oakland and San Jose for short hops. Both airports are surprisingly well-located for those demographics, and people farther east in the valley can use Sacramento.

    There are I think 22 daily flights OAK-LAX, and another 16 from OAK-BUR, 12 OAK-ONT and 9 OAK-SNA. That’s 57 daily Southwest flights from Oakland to the LA area alone, and that’s not counting JetBlue doing OAK (and now SFO as well) to Long Beach. OAK didn’t really come away as an afterthought though in the whole Southwest bit…its cheap landing fees and monopoly on Terminal 2 (and the new extension) pretty much made OAK synonymous with Southwest for the past 10 years or so.

  2. For the overall “Bay to Basin” market, I agree completely that Southwest is the big dog. But LAX-SFO is still one of the bigger markets in the country and that one is owned by United. If only they could get past the environmentalists and spread out those two Bay runways. Then you’d have a perfectly functioning airport in all weather conditions with direct light rail access to the City. I’ll stop dreaming now.

    OAK is a great alternative for those in the City as long as you’re willing to take the BART. Sitting in traffic on the Bay Bridge makes me want to fly to SFO even with fog delays. But yes, the airport costs less to operate from and it’s far more convenient for the East Bay and Napa.

    That being said, SFO has done a lot of work to bring their costs down and that’s why you’ve seen airlines like Southwest come back into the airport.

  3. Agree entirely. If SF could get the runway problem solved it would be huge

    Although it’s not all over yet, buried in the last paragraph of a SF Chronicle article was this statement “The infusion of service is helping drive major expansion projects at Bay Area airports. San Jose and Oakland are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each to expand and upgrade their facilities, and the return of passenger traffic to pre-2001 levels is helping SFO ready its long-planned renovation of the shuttered former international terminal, which will become SFO’s third terminal for domestic flights.”

    If that actually happens the many SFO travelers can finally stop complaining about the eyesore stuck in the middle of the airport and might actually get an improved experience, although they’ve been saying this for a few years now.

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