Southwest’s Long DFW Goodbye and International Plans in Baltimore


There were a couple of completely unrelated pieces of news from Southwest that came out last week, but I decided to throw them both into a single post. First, Southwest announced that it will have a long, drawn out departure from DFW. Second, CEO Gary Kelly talked about Baltimore as an international hub. Let’s look at each of these.

Southwest to Leave DFW on November 21
This may seem like a small issue, but I find it to be truly fascinating. It’s a crazy look inside politics in the Metroplex.

Southwest Eventually Leaving DFW

Most of you probably know that Southwest’s home base is at Dallas/Love Field. When DFW opened back in the 1970s, most airlines moved to that airport, but Southwest opted for Love and there’s been a big fight ever since. It used to be that airlines could only fly from Love to other Texas points and to surrounding states. But that has slowly grown over time with Missouri as the last exemption.

This wasn’t an issue for Southwest when it was a regional player because it didn’t really care about flying beyond those points, but now it does. And over the last several years, it fought a nasty battle to repeal the restriction (called the Wright Amendment). A compromise was reached in 2006 that will see the restriction disappear in 2014 (a full 8 years after the agreement was reached). As part of that, the number of gates will be capped at 20 (something Southwest should love since it now have a virtual monopoly) and a couple other rules go into place.

There were a lot of hurt feelings in this battle, and one of the lingering rules is that for every gate that Southwest or an affiliate operates at DFW, it would have to give up one at Love. That didn’t seem like a problem when Southwest acted like, well, the way it’s always acted. But then it went and bought AirTran. AirTran flies to DFW. So now that Southwest owns AirTran, its affiliate is flying to DFW and there’s a fight about what should happen.

Southwest’s response was a pretty standard one. Tickets were sold by AirTran through November 21 before Southwest took over, so it wants to just keep flying through November 21 to avoid inconveniencing passengers. I don’t see a problem with that, though it seems like a weak excuse. I mean, how many people do you think have already bought tickets into DFW on AirTran in November, or even October? Not many. November 21 is the Monday before Thanksgiving, so you could have a few stragglers who bought an early flight out to DFW, but nobody could have bought a return from Thanksgiving. Even in that case, Southwest could put people into Love Field and even provide ground transportation if it wanted. But it’s not.

And I don’t think that’s bad, but you would think it was the worst thing to ever happened listening to some of the locals. Some have suggested that AirTran’s two gates at DFW should make Southwest surrender two at Love. Ft Worth’s mayor had previously said that Southwest should pull out far sooner. You would think that the mayor would like having those low cost flights at nearby DFW for as long as possible, but no. Apparently, he’d rather hold a grudge.

In the end, I imagine that the November 21 date will hold but this whole argument is just downright stupid, isn’t it? Local politics. Gotta love absolutely hate it.

Southwest Sees BWI as an International Gateway
Southwest made more positive news this week up in Baltimore when CEO Gary Kelly started talking about how Baltimore could be a great European gateway for the airline . . . someday. Something tells me that Gary really just got overly excited about the AirTran merger, but I fully expect that we’ll see Southwest grow internationally from Baltimore eventually.

Technically, Baltimore is already an international gateway for Southwest now that it owns AirTran. AirTran flies to Bermuda, Nassau, Cancun, and Montego Bay from the airport today, and Southwest has no plans to drop that. (How and when that can be integrated with the rest of the Southwest network is whole different clusterf*&k.) But Europe? That’s going to have to wait for a long time. There’s just too much on Southwest’s plate right now.

I, however, do bet that it’ll happen. BWI has long had European dreams and most of them have faded. Icelandair used to fly to Baltimore (and made its US-base nearby) but it pulled out years ago and now flies to Dulles instead. British Airways still maintains its single daily flight to London but only after the airport agreed to keep subsidies flowing to the airline. That’s the only flight left from Baltimore to Europe.

That’s exactly the kind of situation that Southwest could make work. People in Washington already know to go to Baltimore for cheap flights (or at least, that’s how they’ve been trained since Southwest entered BWI back in the 1990s). It’s not much of a stretch for people to also think about Baltimore as the place to go for cheap European flights.

The bigger issue is whether or not Southwest could find a way to profitably serve Europe when time and time again, long haul low cost efforts have failed. If it happens, you can bet Baltimore will be in the mix.

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32 comments on “Southwest’s Long DFW Goodbye and International Plans in Baltimore

  1. Europe means larger equipment, they already inherit more aircraft types with the Airtran acquisition, and they’d further walk away from cost contaiment through fleet complexity.

    Long-haul flying means fewer flights per aircraft, it’s hard to make low fares work when a single roundtrip eats up 18 hours of an aircraft. With no premium cabin, it’s hard to see how you profitably serve Europe at average coach fares below $800++.

      1. I thought the 737-900 on drawing boards was supposed to be a long haul aircraft to replace the remaining 757s still in operation??? I know the 787 will take the place of the 757-200/300 for some carriers that needed 200+ seats but Boeing identified a market for 130-170 seat long haul craft too. Seems like that would be the fit SWA needs.

        1. I presume what the author really meant with the likely 797.

          The 737-900 was actually done for Alaska Airlines to prevent them from buying A320 and A321’s. The -900 suffered from two problems. Range limitations (it basically had the same fuel carriage and MGTOW as the -800 but with a higher OEW), and passenger limitations due to the number of available exits. Both ‘issues’ were resolved with the -900ER now in production.

          The 787-800 has much longer legs than the 757-200, and if they ever get the 787 down to spec weight, will probably offer comparable dead weight per passenger seat. Fuel burn is pretty much directly proportional to total weight (and the 757’s dead weight per seat is far lower than 767,A300, A310, A320, A330, A340, 747,777, D10, MD11 and A380), and that is what has made the 757 very popular for low density routes across the Atlantic. It also has longer ‘legs’ than the A300, A320 and 737.

          The low dead weight per seat is the reason UA PS product is on a 757 instead of a 767.

          As for the ability of 797 to fly the pond, it isn’t going to take a big improvement in range over the 737NG. Another 10,000 pounds of usable fuel carriage/MGTOW would push the NG range to about 4100nm, and that is most of the eastern USA to most of Western Europe even against prevailing winds. Low density seating versions of the 737NG already fly the Atlantic (Privatair/Lufhansa).

    1. To BW’s point, I don’t think they’re really planning anything to Europe at this point. I think it’s more of a pie in the sky type of comment.

      Whether or not a 737 nextgen replacement could end up satisfactorily flying Europe is one thing. But more importantly, could it profitably serve Europe? That’s what I doubt, at least with current market dynamics. As Gary says, it’s hard to see how you could make it happen without high fares. Even Ryanair has said it would need a premium cabin if it flew across the Pond.

      I really do think that if Southwest ever serves Europe, BWI would be in the mix, but I just don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  2. CF,

    I realize this isn’t really what you’re trying to get at, but I didn’t realize Iceland Air withdrew from BWI. I remember the ads many years ago that were posted in the Washington Metro that said, “Why take a shuttle to the curb and take a shuttle to the gate to take a shuttle to the plane? Fly Iceland Air from BWI!” I thought that was a cute little dig at IAD.

    1. Yeah, they pulled out several years ago and didn’t serve the market at all. Then they just went back into Dulles. It was a fun operation – I actually took it back when I was a senior in college.

  3. Supposing that Boeing does decide to replace the 737 series, and supposing that they tilt the replacement towards the larger 737s and the 757, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the offering at the 757 end of the spectrum used by Southwest for a BWI-Europe offering, assuming that it has the range. Of course this is a lot of assumptions, however it would fit their preference for having a single fleet type throughout the airline.

  4. The whole DFW/DAL situation has always seemed stupid for me. That’s like telling AA since they fly to JFK then can’t fly to LGA/EWR, or since MIA is a hub they can’t fly to FLL. Or telling UA they must chose one airport in the bay area instead of flying to SFO/OAK/SJC.

    Talk about childish behavior!

    1. It’s a Texas thing. If Southwest doesn’t want to fly to DFW, it’s DFW’s problem filling the unused gates. Fort Worth’s mayor needs to keep his mouth shut. As it is, Southwest only flies a small percentage of flights through Love Field anyway even though the HQ is located there.

  5. wonder how close the aer lingus tieup with B6 is. currently, aer lingus flies to SNN and DUB from ORD, BOS and JFK plus flights to DUB from ORD and MCO. strangely, it also shows an IAD-MAD flight?

    at any rate, if the alliance issues could be worked out, it’s not hard to imagine aer lingus setting up a daily flight to BWI to connect to WN feed, which could also feed the existing aer lingus flights at BOS and MCO. who knows, they might even be willing to move the ORD flight to MDW!

  6. The Aer Lingus IAD-MAD flight is actually a UA trip operated with an EI Airbus A330, one of the more bizarre such arrangements in the industry …

  7. From someone that lives in Dallas, the DFW/DAL thing is stupid, but everyone needs to keep in mind that SWA agreed to it. If it is stupid now….it was stupid then and they should have seen the fight through instead of signing the agreement. Signing agreements had its consequences. I do believe that SWA should release 2 gates at DAL (no one will use them anyway) until they release the Air Tran gates at DFW. A deal is a deal dumb or not!

  8. Airfares from DFW to cities served by AirTran have already gone up — a lot. Thanks to AirTran, DFW/MKE was about a $200 ticket, which AA usually matched. When we checked over the weekend, the cheap fares were anywhere from $250-$325 on AA for midweek travel. I don’t think all of that increase is due to fule prices. Remind me again, how is the Southwest/AirTran merger supposed to benefit consumers?


  9. How about if SWA orders some 737BBJ’s? These would have the range to make Europe and North Africa easily. Idk how profitable they would be but PrivatAir makes it work with half Business half Economy class.

    I always thought Air Berlin would like Baltimore. DUB or SNN might work with preclearance. More likely is a codeshare from someone, even if it’s a charter carrier.

    1. Well, there’s a reason the BBJ has longer range… they converted some cargo hold space into aux fuel tanks. Not sure there would be enough space for all those bags. I also wonder how the weight and balance thing would work out. All said and done, a BBJ carries 67000 lbs of fuel, fully fueled.

      1. The problem isn’t so much the cargo hold volume lost, it is the payload loss.
        At maximum range, all aircraft convert a sizeable portion of payload into fuel carriage. A BBJ/2 with a full set of Aux tanks has an OEW of about 100,000 pounds. The full tanks can actually carry 70,000 pounds of fuel. (which would very comfortably get the aircraft to the midwest USA from just about anywhere in Western Europe).
        That bad news is that has chewed up 170,000 of the available 175,000 pounds MGTOW. That means you can carry perhaps 24 pax….

        The Privatair operation for LH works in part because they don’t need all the fuel they can carry, and IIRC, there are only about 48 seats on the aircraft, and they are all premium cabin.

  10. Does anyone know the details behind why Forth Worth doesn’t want Southwest at DFW? My impression was that the city of Forth Worth supported the airport, while Dallas supported Love Field. If the mayor of Dallas had made those comments encouraging Southwest to leave, it would have made sense. Can anyone explain?

    1. I think Ft Worth wants Southwest at DFW but when Southwest said it had no interest and signed this agreement, that killed any chance of sustained service at DFW for the airline. So now, it seems to me that the Ft Worth mayor is just showing a case of sour grapes. If they won’t stick around, he wants them gone now.

  11. I really wish they would get rid of the restrictions for flying into DAL already. I regularly fly PHX-DFW and flying Southwest requires a stop for this trip. This adds extra time to the flight, but not as much as you would think when compared to direct flights. Southwest is also rarely the cheapest. It is usually USair.

  12. AA has a big base in DFW. If they aren’t competing with SAW in DFW they can raise fares. They want WN outta there ASAP. So they contribute to the Fort Worth mayor’s election campaign, so he says the same thing.

    Limiting Southwest to 16 gates across two airports (that’s the limit IIRC with the Wright provisions) in the DFW metroplex hurts their ability to compete with AA…you can only pack so many flights per gate (in SWA’s case a whopping 12 in LAS), less if you’re operating a pseudohub (MDW is just under 8 flights per day per gate). Making Southwest draw down capacity at DAL even more just hurts frequencies out of the airport, and thus out of the metroplex as a whole.

    Of course, the Wright Amendment BS is the only reason that SWA has a presence in DFW today. Both MKE and ATL are beyond the Wright Zone and even Southwest knows that turning people’s direct flights into one-stop flights (and potentially one-stop flights to two-stop flights) is a bad, bad deal from a CS standpoint. So they’re letting people get nonstop flights from the DFW area to ATL and MKE until the Airtran schedule runs out. It may hurt them with gate restrictions at DAL, but at least customers won’t be as ticked off…

    Darned politics. North Texas politics to be exact. DCA is the only other airport in the US that I know of that restricts flights outside a perimeter, and their perimeter allows for decent-sized jets and is larger than DAL’s. HOU is the Houston equivalent of DAL yet it allows flights to…wherever. Continental is fine with that, and their position in IAH. SAT both allow flights outside the Wright Zone, and competition between the two leads to healthy fares in the region. The list goes on…

  13. For perspective… DAL is 10-15 minutes from downtown Dallas, but pushing 45 minutes (or an hour with traffic at times) from Fort Worth, whereas DFW is roughly 25 minutes from each city, a $40-50 cab if you don’t have a car. That said, DFW is such a big airport that by the time you park in the back 40 the time may wash.

    The big loser here with the merger is Ft Worth and other cities in the western part of the metroplex, though if AA matches SWA’s prices out of DFW it won’t be a big deal.

    I would love to see the % of DAL’s traffic that comes from Fort Worth or farther west- I bet it’s a fairly insignificant chunk of SWA’s volume.

    I lived 2 miles down the road from DAL, and regularly had SWA jets roaring over my house on final approach, but never could find a good excuse to fly SWA in DAL instead of AA in DFW. Between the Wright Amendment restricting nonstops and the fact that AA’s prices were (oddly enough) usually comparable or better than SWA’s, there was never a good reason to fly DAL.

    With the restrictions, DAL competes to a large extent against driving- remember, the golden triangle of Dallas – Houston – San Antonio (as well as Austin, for that matter, which pretty much covers the big cities in Texas) are all within 4-5 hours’ drive of each other.

  14. I live in Argyle TX, part of the Metroplex and this always cracks me up. I am very loyal to WN since AA loved to strand me in various places (BWI, MCO) and WN always got me home that night. And if they didnt Airtran did.

    Does anyone else remember Legend airlines? AA and Fort Worth basically just had more money for legal battles and they went under even though they didnt actually violate the Wright Amendment.

    1. Ah yes, Legend. They spent more money defending themselves than on anything else. It was pretty awful what American did there. Then again, I doubt that Legend would have made it anyway, but it was an interesting idea.

  15. It’s Manchester, folks. BWI to Manchester suffers few delays. MHT is an all-weather airport that operates when Logan can’t, and has a ton of transatlantic cargo traffic. They’re ready, willing, and able to execute, should SWA setup a route, with some of those AirTran EOW certified birds.

  16. I fly to Dallas about 10 times a year. I always fly southwest because its always way more reasonable than the arm and leg prices American charges. Would love to go direct to DFW instead of bouncing down in Arkansas or Oklahoma on my way to Dallas. Its a big waste of time and energy. I can only presume when congress passed this stupid law, some congressman or senator was getting paid hansomely for doing so. Ridiculous.

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