Southwest Doubles Long Beach Flying; Adds 5 New Cities

LGB - Long Beach, Southwest

We’ve known for a long time that Southwest would be expanding in Long Beach. With today’s schedule extension — sorry for the delay, but this was embargoed — Southwest is doubling its presence with 17 new flights to five new (plus some existing) cities. It’s a big expansion, but will it pay off? Let’s just call it an uphill battle.

Here is the basic plan in map form:

Southwest Long Beach Route Map, green routes announced today

JetBlue abandoned its presence in Long Beach in October, and the slots were reallocated. Southwest will now control a total of 34 of the 53 slot pairs in Long Beach. It has been operating 16 flights a day as of late, so this is a massive increase.

A couple weeks ago, Southwest announced it would start flying to Honolulu on March 11 making a total of 17 daily departures from the airport. That meant there were still 17 slots to allocate. Those will come in two waves, the first in March and the second in April.

DestinationCurrent DailyMarch DailyApril Daily
Las Vegas246
San Jose223
St Louis11

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, every single existing market gets additional frequencies except for Austin. The big winner is Las Vegas, which is clearly where they put airplanes when they run out of ideas on how to fill all these slots. That will have a remarkable 6 departures per day, though to be fair, that was the one high volume market out of Long Beach that worked better than most. Delta and JetBlue were duking it out with Southwest in the past, but both are gone. Maybe Delta will come back in, but I doubt it. Unlike the Salt Lake flights they operate, Las Vegas was pulled out through the end of the schedule earlier this year.

Oakland is the one other existing market that gets more than one extra flight. It gets two. That’s not a surprise, especially since JetBlue used to have a large presence there, and it was a market that had done decently for Southwest pre-pandemic.

Reno is the one new short-haul route, and this makes sense. When JetBlue added that, I was skeptical, but it actually performed admirably for the airline. According to Cirium data, it had the second highest average fare from LGB for 2019 (behind Phoenix) in the area south of Seattle and west of Austin. It’s not a surprise to see Southwest try it. But beyond that, Southwest’s new adds are all about the middle.

I wouldn’t have expected to see Dallas before, because gate space was at a premium. But with pandemic demand levels, it’s easier to put a flight in there. Houston with two a day is more about connections to the southeast. Of course, there is a local market play but with two flights, it’s going to require serious connectivity to work.

Chicago with two a day is a stronger start than I would have thought. But again, it can help with connectivity, this time into the northeast and upper midwest. The big surprise to me is St Louis, the ole’ McDonnell Douglas Express. Cirium data shows that in 2019, there were an average of 4.9 passengers per day each way in that market. Of course, it would have been nearly impossible to fly to St Louis in 2019 since your options were connections on American and possibly Delta if the flights lined up. You can’t really rely on historical data for this one, but knowing that Boeing has a large defense operation near Long Beach, that may be the catalyst.

Boeing does still have a significant presence in both cities, so it’s entirely possible that this is still the catalyst for a successful route. But then again, St Louis is also a great connecting point. With 3 flights heading toward Chicago/St Louis, 4 flights to Texas, and several to Denver/Phoenix/Vegas, Long Beach will have all the connectivity it could possibly want and more. That’s something that was severely lacking with JetBlue, by design.

Notably absent from this list is the Pacific Northwest. Southwest has always been weak on nonstops between Southern California and Portland/Seattle, so it’s not necessarily a huge surprise. Still, I figured with so many slots that we might see something up there. Also, there are no transcon flights. If anyone thought they were going to see Baltimore… well, I’m not sure why you’d think that. It’s all about short-haul and mid-continent, where Southwest performs best.

An LA Basin Comparison

Southwest has said that it could see Long Beach looking like the rest of the LA Basin secondary airports, but it has actually exceeded that at this point. Long Beach now has more flights than Ontario or Burbank. Here’s how I’d characterize all the LA Basin satellite airports for Southwest.

Burbank is a short-haul specialist. It’s the only airport of the four with San Francisco flights. Outside of California/Vegas, Burbank only has flights to Dallas, Denver, and Nashville.

Long Beach is something of a jack of all trades. It has a robust short-haul and mid-continent network plus it’s the only gateway to Honolulu from the region. It has Austin, Reno, and St Louis – an eclectic bunch — unlike any of the other three.

Ontario remains an important regional play, though it has expanded its reach in recent times to include flights to Chicago, Dallas, and Houston. It has no destinations that are unique compared to the other Basin airports.

Orange County is artificially restricted thanks to slot rules, so Southwest has to pick and choose. It has largely focused on important short-haul regional markets, but it is now trying to amp up leisure flying to match expected demand by bringing back Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. It also gets Salt Lake City, an airport that’s not served from any other secondary Basin airport.

All of these airports have service to Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Oakland, Phoenix, Sacramento, and San Jose. The rest have their destinations scattered, ultimately providing a web of options all around the LA Basin. If a Southwest loyalist in Orange County needs to go to Austin, they probably drive to Long Beach. If someone in Long Beach needs to go to Nashville, they probably drive to LAX or Orange County. And if anyone anywhere wants to go to Hawai’i, they drive to Long Beach.

This creates a blanket that helps serve the whole region, but… will it work? As I said earlier, it’s an uphill battle. Long Beach has never done well for any airline, and this is now a whole lot of new flights to a whole lot of places that need stimulation to work. Southwest has a better chance than JetBlue to make that happen, but it’s still not a shoe-in by any stretch. Still, it is a coherent strategy, and that’s something Long Beach hasn’t seen in some time.

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28 comments on “Southwest Doubles Long Beach Flying; Adds 5 New Cities

  1. “Long Beach has never done well for any airline”

    Really? JetAmerica, PSA, SunJet, and other?? Sure, some airlines have gone out of business or merged, and their new parent didn’t understand the niche of LGB. JetBlue was successful! You can blame the city, but JetBlue was NOT a good neighbor. Although “legally” LGB DOES NOT have a curfew, it does have a strict noise limit between 10P and 7A…a limit a Cessna couldn’t meet. JetBlue exploited the noise ordinance….They on more than one occasion, brought a SAN originating flight to LGB (and bussed the pax to LGB) to operate since SAN has a “hard” curfew. That’s blatantly violating the spirit of the ordinance. A delay to a LGB flight is one thing, but operating another city’s flight at 2AM from LGB (because of SAN’s hard curefew) is another. JetBlue did not help themselves

    Southwest, on the other hand, has had very few noise violations or late arrivals. I see LGB as becoming a connection point for HNL. It’s great all the flights thet are adding…I hope they are successful, especially in this Covid 19 Pandemic.

    1. SpiritFF – If you have to go back to the ’80s to find a success, then that’s probably not a good sign. (I’m also not sure how successful those were, but that was a completely different airline industry back then.) JetBlue was definitely not very successful here. They occasionally made money, but never very much. If it was successful, they wouldn’t have left.

      Also, for Southwest, there will be no connections to Honolulu with an early morning departure and later evening arrival. It’s just for the local market.

      1. JetBlue never wanted to get into OAK and LAS. They initially started those routes a slot holders because AA forced their hand threatening to sue the city over a “secret” deal with JetBlue. JetBlue’s plan was to build a West Coast focus city with long haul flights…not short haul. As someone from revenue management, like yourself, you know seat mile costs tend to be lower for longer haul flights versus short haul.

        Southwet’s initial schedule to HNL is at 0700, but I assure you, they will add an afternoon departure at somepoint.

        I believe their strategy at LGB will work. They are the first carrier to market the value of all 5 airports – using them as true “co-terminals.” Other carriers often viewed LGB as taking away traffic from LAX or SNA. They see it as complimenting LAX/SNA. I hope they are successful!

        1. Spirit – It doesn’t matter what JetBlue wanted. At one point it did fly to JFK 8x. Then it realized that wasn’t sustainable. When Virgin America moved in up the road, that hurt dramatically. People weren’t willing to drive to LGB as much. They moved into all these short haul routes, but there’s nothing that kept them there other than the idea that this was the best possible use of a slot since there were not great options. They tried long haul and failed outside of Boston and JFK. Ft Lauderdale failed twice. Dulles was gone years ago. They just kept trying to find a strategy that could work, and after the early days, it never happened.

    2. Because of the Curfew and WN wants to have the most convenient inter island connection time when they arrive in HNL for a higher locally yielding LA/OC catchment area.
      It’s the same play Hawaiian had with its short lived LGB/JetBlue codeshare. Like Hawaiian Southwests HNL flight times will also have ZERO connections at LGB.
      Every if WN wanted to try and make LGB connections work they don’t currently fly Red eyes to that give it a better chance of onward connections. But given LGB low flight capacity as whole if WN did every start red eyes to make east of the Rockies more accessible LGB would be the LAST choice.
      Using SAN and OAK without the need to add new gateways city would be a higher priority than LGB if ever.

  2. I admire SW continuing to innovate and trying to build up LGB. While I’m not an active SW flyer (at 6’4″, I need my seat assignments), I wonder from a usability perspective how annoying it is to price out routes from each airport. If I go to Southwest’s website and type Los Angeles, I’m presented with 5 different cities. Does this mean that if I’m flying to Midway or LAS, I then need to check fares from all five?

    1. This is my biggest complaint with Southwest’s site as well. I’m within a 50-90 minute drive (depending on traffic) of at least 3 Southwest airports, and sometimes face a similar situation on the other end (e.g., SRQ & TPA for a beach destination). It shouldn’t be that hard to allow me to select multiple origin & destination airports when searching for flights, and other airlines do it, but apparently Southwest doesn’t care about providing that capability… Their loss, as if I check a few origin/rest combinations and the schedules/fares seem bad, I rarely bother to check the rest, and book on another airline instead.

  3. I thought slot usage requirements at LGB were being waived right now so I’m not sure I would read what anyone is doing right now.

    WN has to make a good faith effort to develop LGB and they have a better chance than B6 for some of those routes just because WN has a massive network across multiple hubs/bases that can help connect traffic.

    The real question is whether WN can stimulate enough nationwide traffic, throw in some connections over LGB (including to/from HNL) and then build a viable LGB network by a true nationwide carrier as no other carrier has done.

    The chances are their April schedule will not be viable for years but you have to give them credit for trying.

    And it is likely also that other carriers are waiting to see what WN will do with LGB before committing to expanded schedules. If slot waivers are in place, WN is aspiring to what they will be in LGB with an easy out later than demand is not there to fly what they have published – and that will be true for many markets well into 2021.

    1. Tim – Slots are being waived through March, but it’s pretty clear Delta has different intentions for Salt Lake and Las Vegas. By removing Vegas entirely through the end of the schedule, Delta indicates it isn’t interesting in coming back to that market. Does that mean it can’t? No, but Delta has not proceeded that way with other suspended routes. This isn’t just about LGB, it’s about Vegas-West which has been suspended nearly across the board outside of hubs.

      It’s entirely unclear to me why Delta would sit on so many slots at LGB except to squat on them. When time runs out, they’ll have to decide whether to lose a lot of money flying routes that don’t make sense just to keep Southwest from getting more slots or to do the business-wise thing and pull back.

      1. I don’t think it is just about DL.

        Given that airlines are making changes with little more than a month’s notice (and sometimes less), I don’t read much into anyone’s schedules beyond Feb at best.

        DL will clearly have to eventually schedule something with its slots – I think they are the 2nd largest slot holder at present behind WN at LGB – or give them back.

        I believe nationwide slot usage requirements will begin to be enforced by the 2nd quarter but probably not with the same usage requirements as existed pre-covid.

        I don’t know if anyone else wants to use the slots DL holds at LGB but the principle is the same there as anywhere else. Publish a schedule and fly at least a majority of what you schedule at least by the end of the 2nd quarter or start giving the slots back.

        I don’t think WN will fly its published schedule for April by April. If the vaccine really starts to knock case counts and deaths down, then maybe the 2nd quarter will see fairly significant demand return.

        and if demand really does return by summer, a couple times per day to SEA, another RT to SLC, and a late night arrival/redeye return to ATL and/or JFK might make sense at least for summer. And if conventions start happening in LAS again, then DL’s former strategy of being the largest global carrier might make sense.

        LGB’s return for all carriers is dependent on demand return which is dependent on containing covid.

        1. Tim – But it is all about Delta.

          Southwest has publicly said for some time that it will take all the slots it can get at LGB. Whether it flies this schedule or not in April will depend upon demand and whether the city is willing to extend the slot waiver. But Southwest has made its intention clear for the long run.
          Short term adjustments will be what they are. The same can be said for Hawaiian which just announced it would use a second slot to Maui. An airline that isn’t interested in using all its slots doesn’t make an announcement like that. The only other non-cargo operator is American which now has only 3 slots that it uses for Phoenix. If it didn’t want those slots, it could have pulled out months ago. LGB is a coterminal with LAX so even PSP money didn’t require them to stay there. It may change its mind down the line, but 3 slots to the nearest hub is an entirely coherent strategy.

          Delta does not have a coherent strategy in LGB. Even when it was just flying Salt Lake, it flew a third more than what operated from Burbank and Ontario. And that’s with the low fare JetBlue competition. It was clearly just trying to stretch its slots to use the 5 it had. But then it gained 7 more. It tried to do some Vegas flying, but it never had more than 2.5 flights a day and it’s removed from the entire schedule. How do you use all those slots? Ok, add in a couple to Seattle, you still aren’t there.
          Atlanta? Brutal result, but you’re still not there. There is just not world where Delta has a rational presence in LGB with 12 flights a day.
          The same can’t be said for any other airline with their slots.

          1. I don’t know whether Delta will cover up the ways to use slots to support 12 flights/day but I also seriously doubt (and others on here have said the same thing) that WN will sustain the number of slots it is claiming.
            If WN uses all of its slots and DL is still sitting on slots that it is not using, then WN would have a case. Right now it is all theoretical and hypothetical.

            The point which I hope you see is that Delta is not going to walk away from the opportunity to serve LGB in a larger capacity by giving up slots, esp. since giving back slots could allow WN to grow into markets that WN wants.
            You clearly realize that Delta has been far more focused than either AA or UA in serving every airport that any competitor could use to serve any of DL’s hubs. Given that B6 served SLC and there is a market there, DL at the very least wants to make sure that SLC doesn’t become one of the markets that WN decides to serve.

            B6 did not serve other LA basin airports to SLC; last I checked WN does serve LAX-SLC.

            And in your own CNW post recently, you showed that DL is now in the position of having the most capacity, which would cleary seem to be driven by the level of service at LAX plus the fact that WN has heavily scaled back its high frequency Bay to Basin flights from multiple airport combinations.

            The potential to change the paradigm in S. California is no small thing. If DL feels like holding onto a large handful of slots helps to provide it with the flexibility to do something that might advance that goal, I wouldn’t expect them to walk away from that any more than WN should be expected to walk away from its lawsuit against DL at Love Field even though WN has failed to get DL out after years of trying.

            DL are both very well run companies and they are both incessantly “in each others’ faces.”

            I’m not sure this is that much different and the actions that either DL or WN could take have much larger implications.

            The best thing to ensure that LGB becomes viable long-term is for there to be real competition, not just for passengers but among airlines at LGB.

            The worst thing that could happen is for WN to have control of virtually all of the slots at LGB and then play games using them.

            You should be pleased this little drama is playing out in your backyard.

          2. “Delta does not have a coherent strategy” sums up more than their prospects in LGB. You know how bad it must be for them to spin off the credit card business. That’s like the Queen of England selling the Crown Jewels. They’ve lost that. They’ve lost around $1 billion a year profit from change fees. They’ve got their most fuel-efficient airplanes parked because they don’t have pilots to fly them, even though they are paying pilots to stay home and not fly. They have over $3 dollars of debt for every $1 of assets (compared to WN’s 60 cents of debt for every dollar of assets). Their credit rating is junk-bond status. Their multi-billion dollar JV investments are in shambles. It just goes on and on. The ONE thing they do have going for them is that their two biggest competitors are in even worse shape than they are. So there’s that.

            1. The ONE thing they do have going for them is that their two biggest competitors are in even worse shape than they are. So there’s that.
              And WN is still threatening its employees with layoffs, something DL has apparently taken off the table.
              B6 is burning cash at an even faster rate than any other airline.

              so maybe the list of flaws for other airlines is actually much longer.

              And LGB might actually be emblematic of the post covid industry – DL and WN are the only two that have enough financial strength to pick and win battles.

              You forgot to mention that DL and WN didn’t take CARES Act 2 loans while virtually the entire rest of the industry did. The US government holds collateral on $25 billion in airline assets which will absolutely be very significant as the industry recovers.

              LGB is a single scene in a much larger industry drama

  4. Next step for Southwest is to ask for facilities for international flights and then get them because it’s Southwest and not JetBlue asking.

  5. It seems like too much service, especially in these days of COVID. If JetBlue flopped at LGB, I don’t think anyone else is going to succeed.

  6. Just seems like a strange strategy here. LGB can’t attract the passengers looking for frequency on the short haul stuff, so they keep OAK/SJC/LAS/SMF/PHX at schedules that’s far below all their other LA area airports. Which means those short haul routes are going to continue performing poorly. LGB as never demonstrated the ability to sustain service beyond that outside of JFK. AA hasn’t even found enough demand for it to connect LGB to DFW (which they do with BUR/SNA/ONT). So of course, WN thinks it can somehow sustain 2x service to HOU/MDW and 1x to DAL/AUS. LGB-DEN had terrible performance. Even UA never bothered with it. So of course, let’s add another flight there.

    This is just WN trying their hardest to utilize slots at LGB. I highly doubt they will ever fly this schedule or even 80% of it. WN is a really well run airline. Much better than B6. I’m just surprised at what they are seeing in LGB when performances have been this awful.

    1. I agree with all that you said. Looking at the yield data, the performance just doesn’t cut the mustard… hence thats lgb.
      But In regards as a “well runned airline” I must digress. They have 4x more faa safety audits than any of the other airlines and their fines are way more cause they have Ross repertoire of this yahoo Texas slapdash kind of operation. Whether it’s flying airplanes with expires AD’s, cargo irregular items or getting fines for filing down a Lima route in the days when they started carribean flying with no HF radio. You’d think they would do their homework. But as far as their balance sheet. Yea that’s well run.

  7. Edit:
    “Outside of California/Vegas, Burbank only has flights to Dallas, Denver, and Nashville.” I think you accidentally left off PHX from this list.

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