The Significance of Southwest Adding Orange County from San Francisco

Schedule Changes, Southwest, United, Virgin America

I know it’s just one route, but Southwest’s decision to enter the San Francisco – Orange County route with five flights a day on May 9 is a very telling move with a lot of implications.

First of all, this marks the last route flown by United mainline aircraft within California that Southwest wasn’t flying. Years ago, United was the king of California, but that status has been in decline for a long time. In fact, once we get rid of all the little prop flying within California, there are only five regional jet routes that United flies and Southwest doesn’t:

  • Burbank – San Francisco
  • Los Angeles – Fresno
  • Los Angeles – San Diego (one regional jet flight a day, the rest are props)
  • Ontario – San Francisco
  • Palm Springs – San Francisco

We’ll probably never see Southwest in the LA – San Diego market since that short route is almost solely for connections beyond LA, and I doubt we’ll see Southwest in Palm Springs or Fresno anytime soon. But those Burbank and Ontario routes to San Francisco will probably happen one of these days. It’s just a matter of further connecting the dots as United continues to retrench. Burbank-San Francisco, for example, had mainline United flying until recently when it became all United Express.

The other implication is for Virgin America. Southwest is clearly making it quite clear to everyone that it considers 07_08_28 wnvxCalifornia its turf and it isn’t going to mess around. It showed it to Virgin America when it came back to San Francisco and when it started LA to San Francisco flights. (The image at left was originally from my post on the LA-SF flights.)

Lately, one of the routes on Virgin America’s list was San Francisco – Orange County, when it could get the slots. At least, that’s the story that came out in December. There are slot restrictions at Orange County, but Southwest has either found more or reshuffled its existing flights. It wouldn’t surprise me if they got more, because with Aloha’s demise and other flight cutbacks, there were slots to be had.

My guess is that Virgin America will still try to enter the market, because they want to serve all the big destinations from San Francisco, but it’s going to be a lot harder to make money on the route with Southwest plying the skies as well as United and American.

I’ll leave you with one incredible stat from the Southwest press release . . . they currently have 362 flights per day within California. Wow.

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18 comments on “The Significance of Southwest Adding Orange County from San Francisco

  1. Hmm… If this is an argument for high speed rail..

    Airplanes (at least 737s) are like buses you move 100-150 people and you have five staff members. How many could you move with one train on that?

    I’d be really interested to know how southwest strategically is going to address high speed rail.

  2. They’ll probably address high-speed rail the same way they did in Texas . . . do everything in their power to kill it. (They’ve succeeded in Texas so far.) But high speed rail is still more than 10 years away in California, and with all the cuts running around, I’m sure it’ll get pushed back further.

  3. Cranky – The Texas High Speed Rail & Transportation Corporation does have backing from AA and Continental, so airlines in general aren’t against rail. (Maybe their backing is in part due to the fact that TX rail would hurt WN?) As I mentioned yesterday, my belief is rail should be for short trips and air for longer. With all the gov’t spending we’re sure to see in the new administration the fed’s might actually push some of these programs ahead, although I think local transit will get priority. In the short term it sure looks like Southwest aims to squeeze UA and Virgin, but I still contend that fuel prices will rise again and flying a 737 a couple hundred miles will look highly inefficient and non-PC, just as does taking that trip via SUV on the interstate did last summer.

  4. Thanks probably due to the inter-modal alliance at Paris between several carriers and SNCF I’d say AA and CO have finally seen how they can still capture business from hi-speed rail and deploy the fleet in more lucrative markets. With a handful of exceptions AA has largely given Texas/Oklahoma flying over to AmericanEagle.

    I’d love to see TGV-style trains in Texas. Imagine the size of the horns on the “grille” of the engine! LOL

  5. Cranky, you talked about how this route would impact UA and VX, but what about Alaska? Is Southwest aiming to take on Alaska Air on the west coast? Can they compete with Alaska in a head to head competition?

  6. Jason H – Alaska has mostly pulled out of intra-California flying except for I think a single daily LAX-SFO and some turboprop flying to smaller cities, so they aren’t really impacted. Southwest does compete from the Bay Area to the Pac NW with Alaska, but they still don’t fly from the LA Basin to the Pac NW without stopping in the Bay Area so they’re mostly a non-starter.

  7. They must have picked up extra slots. From looking at Southwest’s schedules before and after May 10, there are no non-stop service cuts to/from DEN, LAS, OAK, PHX, SMF, or SJC. As for Southwest flying SFO-BUR, it’s gotta be a matter of time.

    Of course the big question out there is, “what ‘major airport’ will Southwest be adding to their route map later this year?”

  8. Two thoughts on this post from “Cranky”:

    1 – Herb had to wait a long time to build up Southwest at Orange County…one staffer said that he had the patience of Job in this regard….so now that slots are available, Southwest will agressively add service.
    2 – Next big city for Southwest?…..Gotta be Boston! Manchester and Providence serve huge populations near Boston but they don’t serve Boston proper which is another huge Business and Leisure market. You can string off about good 20 reason why Boston makes sense as the next major new Southwest city. Frankly, I think its overdue. And, it will be a big push into that city, just like Philadelphia or Denver were when Southwest added service to those cities.

  9. Steve – One question about Boston. Do they have available gates? That the other carriers are willing to part with?

    With that 5th runway making life easier for DL and AirTran, I’d say ATL may be next in line. WN has been wanting Georgia ever since Fulton County told them they would not open Fulton County Airport just for them.

  10. If VA really wants to make an impact in the San Fancisco market they need to start flying to Hawaii. Can you imagine what that would do to United and American if a cut rate airline entered the Hawaiian market? I don’t think their Airbuses are configured for water flights however so I doubt it will ever happen.

  11. Doug – Don’t count on that one. Not only do they need to be overwater equipped, but they need to be ETOPS as well. The Airbus narrowbodies aren’t used to Hawai’i for a reason. They don’t tend to have enough range. Yes, the distance from SFO to the east coast is similar to Honolulu, but you need a lot more reserve fuel to fly to Hawai’i.

    Besides, I don’t think that Hawai’i matters that much to the business traveler. It’s a nice perk for frequent fliers, but it’s not a primary biz destination.

  12. Hmmm…on the surface this looks like a pre-emptive strike at VX (and of course it is an added benefit) but I think they are more interested in feeding on the O&D traffic UAL has walked away from. There is not much connectivity in SFO for WN and five flights a day make day…or even half day…trips possible. For giggles I checked the walk up on for a walk up and its $379 O/W.

  13. I love southwest so much. I change my flights and travel so frequently that they are really the great for the avid CA traveler. Virgin is good too, but really.. why the hell don’t they fly from LA to Vegas??!?! Annoying.

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