Southwest Advances into South Carolina


Southwest is on the march through the South; however, instead of burning down Atlanta like others have done, the airline will simply use the old school backdoor approach that made it famous. In this case, that means tackling South Carolina.

Greenville Spartanburg Distances

The airline will go into Charleston, but the one that’s more interesting to me is Greenville/Spartanburg. (GSP). Both cities are expected to launch in 2011 and we know nothing else except that they won’t need any subsidies. (It was a pretty odd announcement.)

Why is GSP interesting? Geography.

Think about Atlanta. Right now, the airline “serves” Atlanta by flying into Birmingham, a couple hours west of town. GSP is about the same distance from Atlanta as Birmingham but on the northeast side instead.

It’s not just Atlanta, however. Southwest will also be looking to bracket Charlotte with this move. GSP is about an hour southwest of Charlotte while the airline already serves Raleigh/Durham, a couple hours east of Charlotte.

With GSP, Southwest kills two birds with one stone, theoretically. It’s an old-school Southwest attack on the fringes, but that’s uncharacteristic of the airline’s recent moves into big airports like Boston or LaGuardia. That makes me think there’s more to this.

If this is indeed the strategy, it seems like an odd one. US Airways is undoubtedly thrilled that Southwest isn’t coming into Charlotte right now, and they will certainly lose some business to Southwest in lower fare markets, but the high dollar business isn’t going over there. Also, AirTran and JetBlue already provide some limited low fare service in Charlotte itself.

As for Atlanta, well, that’s a non-starter. There is plenty of low fare competition in Atlanta these days, so I can’t imagine people driving to Greenville just to catch a flight. It’s not worth it anymore.

That sort of reality makes me wonder if there’s something in Greenville that they are seeing to make it attractive on its own. The Combined Statistical Area (which includes much of northern South Carolina) is around 1.2 million people so that’s not small. It is, however, quite spread out.

Companies like Michelin, 3M, Lockheed Martin, and Honeywell have operations around town. BMW has its US manufacturing facility in Spartanburg. Maybe they’re lining up corporate clients and looking to build a strong base in a historically high fare area.

At least, I really hope that’s the case, because the old Southwest strategy of serving out of the way airports doesn’t lend itself well to courting the business traveler anymore, as Southwest wants to do.

[Map via]

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45 comments on “Southwest Advances into South Carolina

  1. Given the limited way in which Southwest has gone into New York/LaGuardia, the also limited opportunities for expansion there, and its traditional distaste for congested, delay-prone airports like LaGuardia, I believe the move into New York City did not represent a fundamental change in Southwest expansion policy, but mostly a desire to better serve its current customer base, which clamored for access on Southwest to this very important destination.

    1. New York City isn’t an isolated move. Boston, Philly, Denver, and Minneapolis are all primary airports that Southwest has gone into lately.

      1. Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, and Minneapolis last I heard don’t present the potential delays that LaGuardia does. With Southwest’s minimal gate times, LaGuardia is actually the type of airport Southwest has avoided in the past.

        1. Philly is absolutely up there with LaGuardia, and you can throw San Francisco into that mix as well. They aren’t afraid of delay-prone airports anymore.

          1. Although CVG may have continued to improve as Delta pulled out, these lists of most delayed departure airports from 2009 seem typical. You are quite right that PHL ranks with the worse offenders, but neither BOS nor MSP are in the top ten.
            1 Miami, FL (MIA) 18.61
            2 Newark, NJ (EWR) 18.08
            3 Atlanta, GA (ATL) 15.80
            4 Dallas/Ft.Worth, TX (DFW) 15.29
            5 Philadelphia, PA (PHL) 15.18
            6 Baltimore, MD (BWI) 14.01
            7 Chicago, IL, (MDW) 13.72
            8 Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) 13.58
            9 New York, NY (LGA) 13.24
            10 Washington, DC (IAD) 13.20
            11 Tampa, FL (TPA) 12.48
            12 Charlotte, NC (CLT) 11.85
            13 Orlando, FL (MCO) 11.70
            14 Boston, MA (BOS) 11.61
            15 San Francisco, CA (SFO) 11.50
            16 Cincinnati, OH (CVG) 10.92
            17 Chicago, IL (ORD) 10.68
            18 Detroit, MI (DTW) 10.34
            19 New York, NY (JFK) 10.31
            20 Houston, TX (IAH) 10.18
            21 San Diego, CA (SAN) 9.58
            22 Washington, DC (DCA) 9.57
            23 Denver, CO (DEN) 9.30
            24 Los Angeles, CA (LAX) 9.24
            25 )St. Louis, MO (STL) 9.10
            26 Phoenix, AZ (PHX) 8.87
            27 Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN (MSP) 8.80
            28 Las Vegas, NV (LAS) 8.22
            29 Seattle, WA (SEA) 6.84
            30 Portland, OR (PDX) 5.78
            31 Salt Lake City, UT (SLC) 5.71

            1 Cincinnati, OH (CVG) 30.27
            2 Chicago, IL (ORD) 29.64
            3 Newark, NJ (EWR) 27.62
            4 Miami, FL (MIA) 25.45
            5 Chicago, IL (MDW) 24.71
            6 New York, NY (LGA) 23.37
            7 New York, NY (JFK) 22.78
            8 Philadelphia, PA (PHL) 22.69
            9 Dallas/Ft.Worth, TX (DFW) 22.49
            10 Fort Lauderdale, FL (FLL) 21.59
            11 San Francisco, CA (SFO) 21.55
            12 Baltimore, MD (BWI) 21.16
            13 Atlanta, GA (ATL) 21.05
            14 Boston, MA (BOS) 20.88
            15 Denver, CO (DEN) 20.82
            16 Seattle, WA (SEA) 20.44
            17 St. Louis, MO (STL) 19.38
            18 Charlotte, NC (CLT) 19.19
            19 Washington, DC (DCA) 18.85
            20 Las Vegas, NV (LAS) 18.80
            21 Orlando, FL (MCO) 18.75
            22 Detroit, MI (DTW) 18.39
            23 Washington, DC (IAD) 18.27
            24 Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN (MSP) 17.42
            25 Tampa, FL (TPA) 17.26
            26 Salt Lake City, UT (SLC) 16.63
            27 Portland, OR (PDX) 15.98
            28 Phoenix, AZ (PHX) 15.67
            29 Los Angeles, CA (LAX) 14.86
            30 San Diego, CA (SAN) 14.22
            31 Houston, TX (IAH) 12.09

  2. Destination Predictions:
    -Definitely BWI.
    -For some reason I feel that MDW is unnecessary. Unless there is local demand (I don’t know), then why would people fly north to connect back south? The only connections that are north of Chicago are MSP, SEA, and Montana airports.
    -Nashville seems too close to be useful. Some connections but maybe a Kansas City or better yet St. Louis would work better.
    -Houston Hobby?? (This will be interesting when Volaris codeshare comes live)

    Any thoughts?

  3. Kudos for not claiming that Atlantans will drive to GSP. 2 hours to GSP is a best case scenario. In Atlanta, that is almost never the case as their traffic situation isn’t far behind LA.

    Any predictions on when Southwest will serve ATL, the busiest airport in the world?

    1. I would have thought it would have happened by now as an outpost similar to LaGuardia. Southwest is never going to dominate Atlanta without a merger, but it should be a dot on the map.

  4. As a native Atlantan….if there’s one thing I loathe, it’s General Sherman references. Gone With The Wind references are a close second.

    SWA @ GSP will have little/no impact on ATL.

    I don’t care about getting SWA to ATL. Give me JetBlue (Can we get more that a half-assed attempt this time, guys?) or Virgin America (ETA: 2027) first.

  5. What I am curious about is the way that SWA announced the expansion. One literally has to go to their Press Release section on the web site to find any thing out. Wonder why that might be?

    I sort of think the strategy fits with a certain aspect of their recent approach. They added cities in 2010 (including NYC) so folks could get INTO those markets with SWA’s “extra” planes that might otherwise be grounded. Plus you get the added benefit of reaching some additional customers.

    So let’s take GSP for a moment. Let’s say I’m a loyal SWA customer living in Phoenix. I now can consider SWA options if I’m traveling to the Carolinas. 4 target airports ranging from Norfolk down to Charleston and GSP.

    I kind of think part of their strategy is to create their own ATT/Sprint type coverage. Never more than say 120 miles to a SWA airport for 90% of the US population. Carolina/Georgia was the most glaring hole in their map. Last year, they “fixed” the upper midwest adding MSP and MKE. Thoughts Cranky?

    1. I think that seemed to be the strategy back in the day, but recent moves make it look different. I mean, they already served Islip when they went into LaGuardia, BWI when they went into Philly, and Providence & Manchester when they went into Boston. So there seem to be multiple strategies going on here.

    1. Probably this. Southwest only “works” when they can churn their ridiculous cult of personality marketing engine and dominate an area. Hence why they’re just not that interesting in major markets, other than as a connection destination for people who literally have no other options at their home airport.

        1. Not at all. I actually think they’re a fine airline if they fly where you want to go and can accept their trade-offs (boarding system, anemic FF program, quirky reservations system, etc.) But just as I find UAL’s crowing about being the “#1 On Time Airline” and similar marketing to be utter BS, I find Southwest’s relentless “aww shucks! We’re so different!” marketing attacks to be on step below nails on a chalkboard.

          “Shut the hell up and fly your planes” would be my advice for SW.

          1. I love Southwest’s updated boarding system, its lack of seat booking fees, its generally warm and friendly employees, and its free bags policy, which is certainly “so different” to my wallet.

  6. Wow, a play from the “old” Southwest playbook!
    This new development is good news for the smaller markets since I was thinking WN’s move to the southeast would be CLT or ATL.
    Cranky, do you think this is signs of WN maybe going to Des Moines or Sioux City or Cedar Rapids to fill in/cover some more upper midwest?

    1. I’ve learned that my Southwest destination predictions are never right, so I don’t bother to try. But Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, and even Des Moines are not big places. It would surprise me if that was their next best move.

  7. GSP makes a lot of sense for the local market. Probably they had to sign a lease for gates and counters so the secret would be out anyway. But, there are big companies there with Michelin et al. It is a dynamic, wealthy, hi-tech area and it is growing. There are more schools in this area than many realize too. My start up guesses: 8 flights to: BWI x 2, MDW x 1, PHX or LAS x 1, BNA x 2, MCO x 1, TPA x1.

    Charleston is a different market. But, isn’t this where Boeing is going to open a second 787 production line in the face of union troubles in Seattle? So, get in on the ground floor there too and nail down another of chunk of the American marketplace.

    Remember, Southwest enters a market with a whole stragegy of low fares, short hauls, etc. to win over the populus, eductate them on the Southwest way, get people into the Rapid Rewards Program, signed up fore the cfredit cards, accept the boarding, no seat reservations, the internet booking policies, etc. It is slow at first but people get converted and tehn become fans.

    1. Well Steve with a lot of colleges in the GSP area those kids are already tech smart for online bookings and if the parents are paying for plane tickects to visit home, you know Dad will be glad to pay low fares on WN……lol

  8. I’ve never flown southwest but I’d have to agree with Tom. From what I’ve seen they’re great if you really want what they’re selling. But I don’t want to have to overhear their random games on the PA or other schnanigans.

    Plus the whole cattle call thing is annoying. I like being able to hang out till later to board. I get it from an operational perspective, but I want to be able to reserve a seat.

    1. I was skeptical too, until I flew them. Everyone talks about bags fly free, but my favorites are the no fee changes and legroom like it’s 1975. I’ll take the cattle call over roll of the dice seating I get on the majors as a non-status flier. Last flight on Delta took several calls to get an assigned seat next to my 2 year old!

      After flying a few times on Southwest, my overall impression is that they really have their act together from an operational standpoint, in a way that no other legacy or LLC seems to. Not having to worry about seat assignments, upgrades, and lots of carry-ons(to avoid baggage fees) frees the GAs and FAs to actually help get the plane to leave on time. Finally, I have never heard a game over the PA, I think they stopped doing that years ago.

      1. That no fee for changes is a such a major selling point–my last on Delta domestic was $150–that I am really surprised Southwest doesn’t promote it in the same way it does its free checked bags.

    1. Good question. We’ll have to see about their route selection. And as Steve said above, Boeing is planning a second line in Charleston, so if they can get the corporate biz, that’s a big deal. I suppose we’ll have to find out.

      1. It would be a good reason to have nonstop CHS-MDW and Boeing should support an airline with hundreds of their planes. But on the other hand a lot of big shots could travel that market and WN doesn’t have first class or lounges for them to use and the really big big shots would fly the corporate jets to CHS I would think.

        1. the boeing facility in SC will be a very large assembly facility; therefore, most of the travelers in/out will be technical workers and middle-management types who will have absolutely no problem flying WN (and may even prefer it if they are already frequent flyers).

      2. one other reason WN can succeed in CHS where FL failed is that the core ATL-CHS run is easily drivable so FL was likely getting just connecting traffic and little/no O&D traffic on that all-important (for airtran) run. with the exception of some of their new “third tier” cities with just 3 or 4 wkly flights to MCO, FL cannot be successful in a market without having success on the ATL run.

  9. Takes an hour or more (depending on traffic) for some Atlanta folks who live in the northeastern suburbs to get to the Atlanta airport, maybe only an hour and a half to get to the Greenville airport (less congestion also) so SWA may be a good option for them.

  10. I am a businessman and Greenville resident. Last year as part of the Southwest effort a large number of business people pledged to switch to Southwest completely for their business travel. Not binding of course, but it was pretty impressive.

    Also, GSP as a physical facility is easily accessible midway between Greenville and Spartanburg. It has its own exit, easy parking, and how many airports have a garden with fountains and (cheesy) sculpture where you can watch the air traffic?

  11. I’m excited about this since I’m a Charlotte resident now. But what I like about it even more is that the rest of my family lives in Asheville and I usually make the drive there to head on vacation with them. GSP is a 1 hour drive for me and them. Add LUV in to the mix, and I’m on board, literally…..

  12. Decent number of people discounting Greenville, South Carolina and the Upstate. Just to clarify a couple points for the Upstate’s sake:

    1. 36th largest CSA in the country, with 12% growth from 2000 to 2009
    2. Highest international investment per capita in the US
    3. 75 regional, national, or international headquartered companies in Greenville county alone
    4. 250 local companies signed commitment letters to Southwest
    5. Consistently ranked in the top 25 markets by Expansion Management Magazine
    6. Ranked #1 “micro-city” in North America by fDi Magazine
    7. Higher education: Clemson (19,000), Furman (2,600), Wofford (1,500), Bob Jones (4,100), USC-Upstate (5,300), Anderson University (2,300), Converse College (2,000), Lander University (3,000), Winthrop University (6,300) = 46,000+
    8. Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center – Largest in the state
    9. Almost always ranked among the highest airfare in the US

    For the record, I also believe that Southwest at GSP will impact ATL. People in Athens, GA (pop 114,000) could easily get to GSP in the same time it would take them to get to ATL. Parking, security, and walk to gate is about 20 minutes at GSP. Not to mention that GSP currently has 60% leakage to surrounding airports (CLT, ATL, AVL, CAE), and GSP will likely reclaim a healthy percentage of that.

    Sorry, just thought I’d throw that out there, but I really have to get back to work. I know there’s more though.

  13. TPA and MCO are already serviced so hard to reason why they would add more to these cities. I have heard that there will be a FLL- JAX-GSP-MDW spur going North and South-much like FLL-JAX_BNA_MDW

  14. The word from LUV is that GSP will receive 8 RT to start service May 11th.

    BWI 2x daily
    1. GSP-BWI-MHT
    2. GSP-BWI-BUF
    BNA 2x daily
    JAX 1x daily
    1. GSP-JAX-FLL
    IND 1x daily
    1. GSP-IND-DEN
    ISP 1x daily
    1. GSP-ISP
    HOU 1x daily
    1. GSP-HOU-AMA

  15. This makes a lot of sense for all the reasons that many of you have stated; they’ll also start servicing both Newark & Charleston in mid-March; the service to Newark is contingent on the United/Continental merger being approve, which would enable SWA to start with 36 slots (18 roiundtrips) with full service by June of 2011.

  16. I dont know about most of you, but i think this Southwest/Air Tran merger is not going to benefit GSP or CHS . In fact, I ‘d venture to say we will see a more conventional hub and spoke pattern for us. That is, we pick up a flight or two to BWI and ATL (both of which were Airtran) and a single flight to BNA and that is it. It is disappointing because I think we were poised to pick up a half dozen new destinations becasue of WN point to point flights. Dont think it will happen so readily now.

  17. Well, it seems that Southwest is waiting on GSP and CHS as the schedule is out for June already. I think that rpeidman could be right- they don’t come until this Airtran thing is resolved-they come in with 717 instead of 737 (saving 50% seating and increasing capacity for a smaller airport like GSP- it all makes sense. Too bad, hoping i am wrong

  18. I personally don’t think the current schedule has anything to do with when they will start service to GSP. First of all, they announced in May 2010 that service would begin within a year. Do people seriously think that Southwest just decided to acquire AirTran in the last 4.5 months? There is also no reason that Southwest couldn’t revise the schedule between now and June. Lastly, service to Northwest Florida started May 23rd, 2010, but didn’t announce service until mid-December 2009. Last two points, I promise:

    A Southwest spokesperson said that start date and route announcements would be coming “later this fall”.

    “First, let’s talk about what’s *not* in this Schedule. Earlier this year, Southwest announced our plans to begin service in the first quarter of 2011 at two airports in the Palmetto State, Greenville/Spartanburg and Charleston, and we’re still on track to do so. We’re just not quite finished with the schedules as of yet.” –

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