Pondering Southwest’s Big Schedule Change for Dallas, Washington, and AirTran

AirTran, DAL - Dallas/Love Field, DCA - Washington/National, Southwest

Southwest does scheduling differently compared to any of the legacy carriers. The airline only allows bookings a few months out, but when it does come out, it’s pretty much set in stone. This most recent schedule extension, was a huge one for Southwest. It not only showed the first post-Wright Amendment schedule in Dallas but it also revealed plans for Washington domination and it finalized the end of AirTran.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t write about this earlier, it’s because Southwest wouldn’t provide the full details of what was changing. Sure, there were a few documents that had pieces of it, but it wasn’t comprehensive like the airline used to provide. It didn’t include the frequency cuts, and that’s a big part of the story. So I waited until the schedules were loaded publicly for easy access. (And boo on you, Southwest.)

Southwest Dallas and DC Schedules

Dallas/Love Field Schedule
It was 8 long years ago that the Wright Amendment was killed off, but with an 8 year implementation timeline it seemed like it would never actually happen. This October, it finally does. The Wright Amendment restricted flights from Dallas/Love Field to only nearby states. With those provisions off, Southwest was able to fly wherever it wanted. We had heard about the planned markets before, but we never saw the expected number of flights in each. Now we know.

Southwest Daily Flights American Daily from DFW
Atlanta 4 10
Baltimore 3 5
Chicago/Midway 6 18 (O’Hare)
Denver 3 10
Ft Lauderdale 2 6
Las Vegas 4 12
Los Angeles 4 17
Nashville 2 9
New York/LaGuardia 3 14
Orange County 1 10
Orlando 3 10
Phoenix 4 13
San Diego 2 10
Tampa 2 7
Washington/National 6 11
Total 49 151

Southwest certainly went broader here and that meant it couldn’t really get even close to the level of frequency that American operates out of Dallas/Ft Worth. With gates at Love Field capped, Southwest can never match that kind of frequency. But will it be enough? In leisure markets, I’m sure it’ll be fine. But will that one 1 flight to Orange County really make a difference to the business traveler? Are 4 flights to LA really going to compete for the traveler who needs more options?

Southwest will, of course, continue to have connecting options to fill in its schedule, but it’s just not the same. That being said, this isn’t a bad schedule.

Of course, with all this happening, it was inevitable that Southwest would pull down the number of flights it had on existing routes. Before, for example, people flying from LA to Dallas had to stop somewhere because of the Wright Amendment, and El Paso and Albuquerque were right along the way. With those passengers no longer needing to connect over those cities, the demand for flights drops. And Southwest had to adjust.

By November 2, when the new schedule is fully in place, we’ll see the following cuts to/from Dallas:

Today Nov 2 % Change
Albuquerque 9 5 -44%
Amarillo 5 4 -20%
Austin 12 10 -17%
Birmingham 4 3 -25%
El Paso 6 4 -33%
Houston/Hobby 25 21 -16%
Kansas City 9 6 -33%
Little Rock 5 3 -40%
Lubbock 5 5 0%
Midland/Odessa 5 5 0%
New Orleans 8 8 0%
Oklahoma City 4 3 -25%
St Louis 9 7 -22%
San Antonio 13 10 -23%
Tulsa 5 3 -40%
Wichita 2 2 0%
Total 126 99 -21%

Other related routes were hit as well. With nobody needing to connect over Amarillo to get to Denver anymore, The Amarillo – Denver route couldn’t support itself. That’s gone in this schedule. The rest appear to be sticking around but there are cuts. For example, LA to El Paso drops from 3 to 2. And Chicago to Kansas City and St Louis both drop from 10 to 6. I would expect future changes to unfurl here over time. Southwest doesn’t know exactly how it will all work in practice since this is such a massive change.

Washington/National Schedule
While the Dallas change was the biggest is size, there were some seriously interesting moves in Washington that are more exciting to watch. Take a look.

DC Airport Destination Today Nov 2
National Atlanta 6 6
National Akron/Canton 0 1
National Austin 1 1
National Chicago/Midway 0 9
National Dallas/Love 0 6
National Houston/Hobby 2 4
National Ft Myers 1 1
National Indianapolis 0 2
National Kansas City 1 1
National Milwaukee 4 3
National Nashville 0 3
National New Orleans 0 2
National St Louis 2 3
National Tampa 0 2
Dulles Chicago/Midway 5 2
Dulles Denver 2 3
Dulles Las Vegas 0 1
Dulles San Diego 0 1

The bulk of these changes are due to Southwest acquiring more slots at National thanks to the American/US Airways merger settlement. Keep in mind that the frequencies don’t say everything here. A lot of these are current AirTran markets using the 717, so when Southwest moves in with 737s, the number of seats goes up. That’s why Milwaukee gets a frequency cut. Other markets grow even though the number of frequencies don’t change. This is an even bigger increase than it looks.

But possibly the more interesting piece here is what Southwest is doing at Dulles. Southwest already dominates in Baltimore, and that covers many of the Maryland suburbs of DC quite nicely. Now it will have a serious schedule at National to cater to the crowds in DC and Northern Virginia. But it can’t serve long haul flights from National thanks to the perimeter rule.

That might not matter if you aren’t looking at the city holistically, but Southwest is, and it wants to be relevant. That’s why it’s relaunching Dulles to Vegas and launching for the first time Dulles to San Diego. Yes, Midway gets cut big time, but that’s because it can be served from National. Denver, however, gets an extra flight since it can’t. These are cities that are already served from Baltimore, but now Southwest can bracket the city.

It’s yet another thing that should concern United. It’s getting eaten alive in DC from every angle.

AirTran’s Final Death
Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran has taken forever to digest, but come December 29 of this year, the AirTran brand will disappear for good and the integration will be done. On the 28th, AirTran will operate its last flights between Atlanta and Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Ft Lauderdale, Ft Myers, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Orlando, Philly, Pittsburgh, Raleigh/Durham, St Louis, and Tampa. In addition, there will be flights from Orlando and Tampa to Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. After that, frequencies will convert over to Southwest and AirTran will be toast.

This is a welcome move, not because AirTran will be gone but because the codesharing integration between the two was clunky and confusing.

Whew, that’s one heck of a schedule, no? The Dallas moves are interesting but unsurprising. It’s the broader move on Washington that has really caught my eye. Between US Airways leaving Star Alliance, Frontier creating a focus city at Dulles, and Southwest targeting Washington on a broad scale, United has to be feeling the heat.

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16 comments on “Pondering Southwest’s Big Schedule Change for Dallas, Washington, and AirTran

  1. I am still surprised we are not seeing SFO/OAK, SEA, BOS on the list of cities out of DAL. I think we will, but I am not sure how to long we are going to have to wait.

    Another interesting one is that LUB and MAF are not seeing any reductions. This has to be oil & gas business, I cant think of another reason why those tiny airports would still be served at that level.

    1. Midland/Odessa has had a huge resurgence of the oil-boom and the dollars and oil are flowing to the entire region. Lubbock is the primary commerce capital for the region and also boasts a large state university. Both of these airports are also 6+ hour drives from the next nearest “major” airports. Having flown these routes many times, the loads are always high. These are money makers for WN and the new schedule is just reflecting that.

      1. I used to be in the o&g business and always just drove to Midland ( I lived in Keller at the time). It was easier than flying and renting some of the time, other times it would have been better. But I always had to go way south near Van Horn, Fort Stockton, etc. I didnt realize the load factors were so high. I know those two airports are hardly served by anyone else, so that makes sense.

    2. D-ROCK beat me to it, but DAL-MAF is a major O&G business route, and there is more traffic than you think to LBB given the presence of Texas Tech. A ton of Tech alumni work in greater DFW. Lubbock has also become the major agribusiness center for the South Plains (largely as a result of the university), and much of that financing runs through Dallas.

      Regarding the other markets you mention, there is very likely another shoe to drop in the not-so-distant future that may well pick up those markets, so stay tuned. Getting the other two gates over VX would have hastened the process, but WN likely wants to see how all of these schedule changes play out for a few months before instituting Round 2. I would be particularly shocked if SFO (or at least OAK or SJC) doesn’t pick up a nonstop or two given VX starting up that route this fall.

  2. I’m happy to see Dulles isn’t taking a hit. I thought for sure it would when WN won all those Reagan slots. DCA may be the preferred airport for people heading into DC, but for people living in Northern Virginia, IAD can be a much easier option. I’m happy about the new flights, especially the extra DEN flight, since that will help with my trips out west.

  3. Southwest is loved here in Washington, and being from the Maryland suburbs we all are accustomed to using BWI and Southwest. Funny enough, I just flew HOU-DCA on WN a few days ago and the captain accidentally first said we’re headed to Baltimore :)

    I do hope 44 dailies at DCA doesn’t cannibalize the nearly 200 dailies at the BWI hub. The 6x DAL-DCA threw me by surprise (maybe to hold their own against VX). IND-DCA seems like they couldn’t find anything else to do with the slots. I’m surprised they didn’t try DTW-DCA given US is leaving the route. SAN-IAD is long overdue on someone other than UA, especially since AA moved SAN-DCA to LAX. DC is a brutal 3-way fight between UA, US/AA, and WN and fares are cheap here.

    This is probably not the end for DAL, and I see them adding more frequencies on DAL-BWI/BNA/DEN. I do feel some point to point at DAL with shorter stage lengths might command higher yields like DAL-OMA or something, and 1x daily would be adequate.

    Let’s see what UA and DL have planned for DAL. DL seems to have pulled reservations for all their DAL stuff except ATL. So maybe there’s a UA sublease in the works?

  4. It is certainly bad news for United which is losing large amounts of money. Their pilots recently sent a strongly worded message to their CEO “Lead or get out of the way”

  5. Is there really a need for one DCA-CAK nonstop instead of adding one more nonstop in a bigger market?

  6. OK, the dust has settled on the DAL saga and the DCA windfall. Not too many surprises but some lousy news for folks in some of those cities used as bridge markets due to the Wright Amendment. Nothing too shocking here though.

    Going forward the big news at WN will be international, especially at HOU when the new IFS concourse opens. New markets and new US gateways are coming and I’m sure there will be some surprises on that front. WN has already stated FLL will become a gateway airport.

    Here in STL I’m hoping for some Mexico/Caribbean action, but I’m not holding my breath in the near-term.

  7. Great post Cranky! Very clearly written.

    It’s pretty apparent that Southwest is putting quite a bit of volume on what will be some competitive routes. The DC increase (5 now/ 11 future) is certainly one. I wonder if this is more combative towards the legacies or towards Frontier (which, as you said seems to be aiming for a different piece of the market). You also have DCA-DAL. I wonder how much is predicted demand and how much is revenge on Virgin.

  8. I should have said this earlier with the post about love field but anyway I think the gate cap for the airport is just a bunch of bull. I know how it ended up to be that way. I just completely don’t agree with it at all. Dallas should be allowed to do what it wants with the airport. There, now I feel better.

  9. I’m surprised WN is adding DCA-CAK, considering CAK had no direct service from BWI before. Maybe they wanted to avoid going head-to-head with UA on DCA-CLE?

  10. I think SWA’s BWI focus will stay intact, even with the announcement of additional flights at DCA and IAD. Along with Love Field, SWA will be starting nonstops to OAK and PDX. There are also the impending international flights inherited from AirTran. I wouldn’t be surprised to see BWI become more of an international gateway for SWA with eventual flights to Mexico City, Canada and other parts of the Caribbean (a la JetBlue and Spirit from FTL). The combined metro area is very large and relatively wealthy with ample business travelers. I fly out of BWI on SWA often and can’t recall being on a flight that was not at least 75% full.

    If anything, I’d like to see more competition on some of the routes. Ironically, the “Southwest effect” is dead and gone here when competition is scarce. I booked a BWI-BNA flight recently with plenty of notice for $700 RT. You guessed it – SWA is the only carrier on the route.

  11. Looks like Southwest is permanently dropping FLL-JAX with the November schedule change. Intra-Florida is a shadow of it’s former self with some FLL-TPA still in place.

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