Southwest’s Announcement of 15 New Destinations From Dallas Leaves So Many Questions Unanswered

Southwest

Ever since Southwest first started flying more than 40 years ago, it has been heavily restricted as to where it could fly from its home base at Dallas/Love Field. We are finally on the cusp of those absurd restrictions going away in October of this year, and Southwest is making a huge deal out of it. In fact, Southwest is really dragging this out and announcing changes tiny bit by tiny bit. We got the first piece of the puzzle this week when the airline announced 15 new destinations.

Southwest Grow Dallas Wright Amendment

For a little more history on these restrictions, you can read my post here. But basically, Southwest has been restricted from flying and selling tickets from Dallas to anywhere beyond a few surrounding states since its inception. (The only way around it was to use small airplanes with 56 seats or fewer, something that never fit Southwest’s model.) In 2006, an agreement to lift these silly restrictions was finally reached. But the timeline for implementation was excruciatingly long.

In the agreement, Southwest could instantly begin selling tickets beyond the surrounding states. Previously, if you wanted to fly to LA from Dallas, you would have to buy one ticket to El Paso or Albuquerque and then a separate one to LA. In 2006, you could finally buy a single connecting ticket for the first time. It’s insane that these rules existed, right?

But the big change won’t occur until October of this year, eight years after the agreement was signed. This October, Southwest will be able to fly nonstop from Dallas to anywhere in the US. (There is no customs and immigration facility, so no international flying will be allowed.) As you can imagine, this is a huge change and will create real opportunity for the airline.

Today, Southwest flies nonstop from Dallas to 18 cities with 125 to 130 daily departures. We know now that on October 13 when the Wright Amendment lifts, Southwest will add Baltimore, Denver, Vegas, Orlando, and Chicago/Midway. Then on November 2nd, the airline will add Atlanta, Ft Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York/LaGuardia, Orange County, Phoenix, San Diego, Tampa, and Washington/National.

If I had to pick a surprise here, it would probably be Orange County. But really, nothing is a huge surprise. This is exactly how you’d expect this to roll out. But there’s one huge piece missing.

We don’t know the schedules, and we don’t even know the frequency of flights on each route.

This is important so we can know what kind of competitiveness Southwest is aiming for here. Will Southwest be trying to put out a frequency-heavy schedule in all these markets for business travelers? Or will it be a mix?

This question is really important for another reason. While Southwest can fly anywhere it wants in the US, it can’t fly as many times as it wants. As part of the settlement, Southwest agreed to a gate cap. It has only 16 gates, though it will undoubtedly make an effort to get the 2 gates American had to give up to get its merger with US Airways approved. If Southwest can squeeze 10 flights a day off each gate, that means it can’t have more than 160 flights a day.

You can see where this math is taking us. Southwest did announce it would drop the Dallas to Harlingen and Branson flights awhile ago (Branson disappears entirely from Southwest’s network), but even without that, the airline is planning to run about 125 flights a day to 16 existing cities. That leaves only 35 daily flights to play with, and that’s definitely not enough. Cuts are coming. But we won’t know anything more about that until the schedule comes out in May.

We can definitely speculate. Southwest runs six daily single stop flights between Dallas and Denver today. Those go through places like Amarillo and Oklahoma City. There are seven a day to Chicago and those go through places like St Louis and Kansas City. LA gets five through places like El Paso and Albuquerque. You can see how this works.

Once those cities have nonstop flights, then the stopping points won’t be able to support nearly as many flights as they have today.

When May comes, we’ll know more. But I’m expecting that we’ll see some cuts in existing markets while these other markets come online. Let’s talk about this again in 3 months.

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33 comments on “Southwest’s Announcement of 15 New Destinations From Dallas Leaves So Many Questions Unanswered

  1. As someone that just got back from a DAL->ABQ->OAK->SEA->DEN->AUS->DAL trip, it is about time. I refuse to fly AA, which is really the only other choice here, and these changes are a very long time in happening.

    I am surprised at some of the choices as well though, which I assume are due to gate restrictions in DAL. SFO, SEA, and BOS are the three that I find oddly absent from the announcement. The rest all make sense, and I am sure we will see some pretty noticeable shrinking at AMA, LUB, ELP, ABQ, TUL, OKC, LIT, MCI, MAF, and BHM. But with the lack of connecting traffic, will it really matter in those markets? They will have fewer daily flights, but still no real choice other than WN.

    1. Why do you refuse to take AA? I would think getting there faster with a nonstop would always be the best option, unless you live crazy far from DFW or something…

      1. AA loved to strand me places. Despite being elite (Platinum or EP), they would not get me home for days and days. Leaving MCO on Friday, had ot be back on Monday, but due to mechanical they would leave me there until Tues.

        WN and AirTran, however, this was before the merger, would get me back to TX. Old uncomfortable seats, always someone next to me, etc.

        Flying WN makes me a bit more master of my own destiny. I get to get up to stretch my legs, get some real food, and often keep someone from sitting next to me by using a collection of patterns ranging from coughing uncontrollably and giving dirty looks or eating cuttlefish!

        Points are so much better on WN, my business travel rewards me a lot faster for free flights and hotel rooms.

        I actually live 15m or so closer to DFW than DAL, but the service, schedule, and other things are just better on WN than AA.

    1. Could it be that Jetblue BOS to DFW and Virgin American SFO to DFW have brought too much capacity to these markets on top of AA and others? I suspect SWA knows how many people are going between markets today and doesn’t see the RASM needed with the gate capacity.

  2. If Southwest agreed to a gate cap, it should honor its agreement. I’m pulling for Delta or Spirit to get the divested gates.

    What I find interesting is the amount of competition on most of these routes, even they go to many of Southwest’s strongest markets. It’ll be interesting to see if the “Southwest Effect” still exists or has become a myth.

    On balance, I’m happy to see the Wright restrictions go away. But I find it interesting to note that American’s old executive team apparently didn’t mind losing the two gates at Love, but the new team would have liked to have used them.

    It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

    1. I believe the gate cap was for total gates at the airport and not for Southwest. Although the Wright amendment modifications were in all practial purposes for Southwest, the legislation is airport specific and not airline specific.

      1. Shane – Please note the word “if” at the beginning of my post. I’ve never seen a definitive copy of the referenced agreement, so I have no way of knowing what’s in it. But I’ve read news stories that seem to indicate that Southwest agreed to limit itself to a set number of gates it can use at Love. We should find out soon.

      2. Shane – I believe you’re right. The cap is 20 gates and as of today, United has 2 as does American. But what doesn’t seem clear is if those AA gates can be transferred and how. There are some who say Southwest can’t go above 16 and other who say the gates simply can’t be transferred and would just fall into a common-use pile. I’m not sure.

    2. From someone new to SW due to their purchase of Airtran, I have no idea what the Southwest effect is, other than higher fares. Delta must love them being here, all routes went higher as soon as you could start booking on southwest.com.

  3. The only minor surprise for me was seeing three nonstops to SoCal – LAX, SAN, and SNA – but none to the Bay Area. Personally I would have thought a nonstop to OAK or SJC would make more sense than SNA. I was also mildly surprised not to see DTW and MSP on the list, since DL has said they will start nonstops to both if they are awarded AA’s gates at DAL. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see those two as add-ons if DL does indeed get the gates.

    What I suspect will happen is the same thing you are suspecting. That is, we will see the paring knife taken to ABQ/AMA/ELP/LBB, possibly LIT/MCI/STL as well (basically all the stations that currently funnel one-stop traffic to the west and east). However, as alluded to above, the big wild card is what happens to AA’s two gates. WN is still trying to get its hands on them. If they do, that potentially gives them an extra 20 flights a day to play with.

  4. SNA I heard was one of the largest O&D markets out of DFW. This might be cause AA has huge corporate contracts between DFW-SNA and that’s why they fly it 10 daily or so. So I think a 1x DAL-SNA should work for WN given historical strength in both areas.

    But yes, this list was fairly obvious to most of us following the repeal. What we really want to see is the frequency, and I think we don’t know that until may. I also expected DAL-SFO/SEA/BOS but I guess we’ll have to wait.

  5. This was just a story in todays paper why Oakland with 97 WN flights a day was left out. It was said down the road when they more aircraft to use they would come to the bay area. Who knows, but I’m sure they are going where they think the business (money) is.

  6. B6 is getting a lock on BOS, so its easy to see why WN wanted to avoid a dogfight. I’m guessing they looked at current O&D trends from DAL and picked the best options. Like someone else said, I expect the legacy markets out of DAL will take a big haircut to accommodate flights.

  7. Does 16 gates preclude them from parking on a ramp and bussing passengers from a single gate to multiple aircraft ala Frankfurt or US Airways Express at DC National? Not ideal but if it brings in more money that could be a worthwhile loophole. Maybe that’s how Delta will add all of their flights if they cannot get more gates. Has anybody looked into whether Delta can support their schedule with their current gate situation?

    1. Good call. 25 flights in less than 17 hours between DAL-HOU has always seemed crazy to me. Granted, I’ve never been on one, but I always wondered, “How full can those flights be?”

      1. Much fuller than you would think. I’ve had to do that run a few times, and the planes were always packed. Also keep in mind the hourly frequencies have been around long before you could even do through-ticketing out of DAL; I remember a TV commercial touting the frequency back in the 80s. Don’t forget that there’s 13+ million people living in the two metros, so it’s basically the Texas equivalent of the Northeast shuttles.

      2. I’ve been on them several times and don’t remember them being empty. I’m sure they could cut a few mid day flights, but there is a lot of traffic between the 4th largest & 9th largest city in the US.

  8. Can’t really comment one way or the other, except to say: Go to it, WN! Best of luck! And, to the competition, Look out!

    Honestly, is there anybody else out there that seems to know how to run an airline? Not everything they do fits perfectly with my tastes, Not always the cheapest. I don’t own any of their stock. But to this UA-frequent flier, I really admire them and never hesitate to use them.

    Oh, if the other carriers had even a half of WN’s spunk and smarts!

  9. I feel bad for the sorta Hubs that are now going to die (ABQ AUS ELP…) SWA At least at ABQ did lots of connections now I feel that ABQ and others who were the out line of the Wright Amendment States They were little hub airports now they are just little

  10. Well, let’s all keep in mind that WN never puts all its eggs in one basket. They will cherry-pick the best O & D markets, the best yield markets and the highest load-factor markets pretty much in that order. If you look at WN’s Midwest markets, you will see that since MDW is essentially maxed-out of space, they have been quietly beefing up other east-west connecting opportunities through MKE, MCI, BNA, HOU, and, especially, STL. Of course, they want all the high-yield O & D traffic they can get in DAL, but you will see them connect east-west thru there as well, thereby guaranteeing their load factor. For them, it’s ALL about the NETWORK, not just building a hub.

  11. I’ll echo the comments of surprise OAK was left out. Certainly if there’s a big O&D to SNA then it makes sense.

    I think there’s almost no chance of them getting the last two gates at DAL, but maybe someone can speak to whether the potential winner could lease them out to WN…even for part of the day? My speculation would be JetBlue, Frontier or Virgin to put in for the gates.

    1. Chris and others…..Now that we have established that SNA is a high-yield, slot-controlled market, AND that WN will have no non-stops (yet) to the Bay Area, doesn’t it make sense that they will run DAL-SNA-SFO/OAK? That way, they get DOUBLE the yield on the DAL-SNA segment combined with the SNA-SFO/OAK segment. The DAL-SFO/OAK thru customers will just be the icing on their cake.

  12. Honestly I still think they are still ironing things out with what the plan is for dal. That being said I’m sure the routes will cater the most to business select as that is who they are currently bending over backwards for. So I’m really expecting this to benefit the business markets the best.

  13. It’s kind of funny how EVERYBODY seems to be in love with WN. NOT the cheapest anymore, certainly NOT the most punctual either. Plus, if you fly with the other guys and something goes wrong, they can always put you on another airline. WN does not have interline agreements, except for a full Y fare which they never do, so it is until they have space on the next WN, that you will make it. Rumor has it that they are gonna stop doing bags for ‘free’ (if you fly them, make sure to check 2 bags, otherwise you are paying for a service you are not using)

    1. Agree – WN is not the cheapest, not the most punctual, but they ARE highest in mishandled bags. They’re free, you just don’t know if you’ll ever see them again…

  14. Southwest will obviously launch more routes with the next year or so out of DAL and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bay Area and BOS are on the list. You can’t flood the market with a bunch of new service all at once. Southwest is going first where they know they can succeed.

  15. Glad this silly amendment is about dead. DFW does not need protection anymore as it is now one of the largest global portals in the world. WN has treated the residents of Texas well since the 70’s. DAL is easier to get to for many in Dallas than DFW. Enabling same-day or one-night business trips helps grow the economy both in the Dallas metroplex area and in other markets.

    My guess is we’ll see them put the 737-800’s with larger seating capacity on routes like DAL to DCA and LGA (perhaps LAX too). You may seem frequency reductions in some intra-TX routes but I wonder how many of those are competing against cars vs. other airlines? Would be curious to see RASM analysis on these vs longer routes and to do the math to see if they are worth using the gates on.

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