Yesterday, Southwest finally announced its schedule for New York/LaGuardia beginning June 28, and it’s an interesting one. The slots they acquired from defunct ATA allowing seven daily roundtrips have been split into four daily to Chicago/Midway and three daily to Baltimore. They were also able to add a fifth daily Midway flight by scheduling a late night arrival and early morning departure outside of the slot-controlled time period. But what’s interesting is how these flights are set up. Here’s the schedule:
The only surprise about the Midway flights is that they didn’t schedule more of them. That’s a market that has Delta in there with nine flights a day in direct competition, and there are a ton of flights on American and United into O’Hare as well. With that backdrop, Southwest needed a healthy schedule, and they’ve got one. There are a couple of holes, however, so I would have thought they’d do more, but it does a decent job of covering the business traveler. It will be interesting to see how long Delta sticks with this schedule under the price pressure that Southwest has introduced. Maybe they can sell some of those slots over to Southwest.
The Baltimore flights are a little more interesting. With only three flights a day, that doesn’t appeal to a business traveler at all. Let’s not forget that there are easy train options to run that route as well, so I don’t see this as competitive at all. I assume they did this for the connecting opportunities, and that’s why I thought I’d see something like we see in Dallas where there are plenty of one-stops to major markets, but that’s not what they’ve done.
Everyone is well aware of the operational issues at LaGuardia. Things get jammed up quite easily so Southwest appears to have isolated the airplanes here, at least after they leave LaGuardia.
If you look at my diagram above, you’ll see that six of the eight flights into LaGuardia start somewhere else, and a seventh definitely will be starting its day in Chicago at 640a. But only one of the flights out of LaGuardia goes beyond its next destination, and that’s the first flight in the morning which will probably be reasonably on-time since it will have the whole night to sit before leaving.
Where exactly are those other six airplanes going when they land at Midway and Baltimore? They’ll have to continue on to other places, but I bet they aren’t using the same flight number because they’ve probably built in a pretty big time cushion in Midway before they send them out again. For that reason, they won’t want to sell them as through flights.
It’s an interesting strategy in that it allows them to build a bigger buffer so that planes that are late leaving LaGuardia won’t screw up the rest of the system. But it makes it a harder sell for them to appeal to passengers flying out of New York. There are plenty of nonstop flights on other airlines to many of Southwest’s cities, and now they’ll just show up as connections at the bottom of the heap.
If, however, you assume that Southwest isn’t trying to cater to business travelers in New York but rather those going to New York, then this isn’t that bad of a plan. The flights into New York will show up as direct flights, and they can worry about the return options later. Still, I’m surprised to not see direct options into LaGuardia from strongholds like Houston, Nashville, Denver, and Oakland, among others.
What I think we can all assume is that Southwest isn’t done here. At some point, they’ll get more slots, and they’ll start connecting the dots better, but for now they at least have their foot in the door.