The new city rollouts just keep on coming down in Dallas, and the airline is taking a very Allegiant-esque turn. After putting Bozeman and Fort Walton Beach/Destin on the map, Southwest has now decided to add Bellingham, Eugene, and Myrtle Beach.
With all these new cities, I thought I’d try to do an experiment. I took the US Census 2020 population density map. Blue is the most dense, followed by green and ending up at yellow as last dense. Then I went to Great Circle Mapper and drew a 75 mile ring around each Southwest destination. Blue rings are for existing destinations from prior to the pandemic. Red includes all the new ones that have been added.
Here’s the end result, and keep in mind, if you want to see the original Great Circle Mapper map, go here.
Pretty ugly, right? I know, but listen. The Great Circle Mapper map was in a different shape than the Census map. I did my best, and you get the point. All those blue spots are covered quite well by existing Southwest markets. Meanwhile the red rings sit over some… less dense locales.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is still interesting to see where Southwest feels it’s most important to fill in the blanks. I’ve heard Southwest described as a California airline based in Texas, and this certainly makes that look true. Southwest has added Fresno, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, going down to smaller size markets in order to provider greater coverage of the whole population. And now it’s going further north adding Eugene and Bellingham to make near continuous cover up to the Canadian border.
The obvious exception is far northern California and southern Oregon. Short of Santa Rosa — which doesn’t add much coverage — I can’t imagine an airport in Northern California that would even grab Southwest’s eye. But Medford just north of that border in Oregon? It wouldn’t shock me to see that on the list.
Neither Allegiant nor Alaska have to be happy about any of this. For Alaska, this targets their West Coast strategy. It was one thing when Southwest entered smaller California markets, but there are right in the airline’s backyard. And Allegiant, well, it has a good presence in each of these markets.
Here’s a look at current July 2021 scheduled seat capacity. No, these numbers are nowhere near what will actually be flown, but this will give you an idea of how the markets shape up.
Seats/Share By Marketing Airline – July 2021
What should stand out here is just how tiny Bellingham is. This is the gateway to Vancouver, and Allegiant has used it very well since the early days. But other airlines have not found success, and even Alaska tried and failed with some experiments, like Hawai’i. I guess Southwest is still not ready to go into Canada, but it’ll take a swing that its name recognition will draw even more people across the border. I expect fares will be low as they duke it out when Southwest enters both markets in the second half of the year.
When we look at the rest of the country, Southwest certainly has ample coverage in Florida and the Northeast. I also have to say that I really like that near continuous line of coverage from Harlingen all the way up to Minneapolis/St Paul. Some of the red circles just provide overlap from this perspective, like Chicago/O’Hare, Houston/Intercontinental, and Miami. We’ve already talked about this. But others fill in gaps where Southwest isn’t around. Colorado sees better coverage, and, well, Jackson, MS is back. But take a look at third member of this latest announcement, Myrtle Beach. That’s an area that had a little hole to fill as well.
Myrtle Beach is a place I hope to never have to visit. This place has found a home as a golfing haven and cheesy amusement capital. As you might expect, that means it draw a whole lot of ULCC service. I suppose this is when we mourn the loss of hometown hero Hooters Air.
Anyway, here’s the capacity chart.
Myrtle Beach Seat Share By Marketing Airline – July 2021
That is an incredible amount of ULCC service. If you’re Southwest, you will have a lot of really low fares in the market for nonstops, but you also have service from legacy airlines on regionals that are the way the community connects to the outside world. Southwest must be hoping to straddle both, fill all those 737s with decent fares that it can steal away from legacies, but also fill the rest of them with cheap tourists.
This could be a very tricky market. After all, on a base fare level, Southwest won’t want to be that low, because it doesn’t charge for bags like the others. That is amplified even more in a place like Myrtle where golf clubs are very popular, and Southwest doesn’t charge. We’ll know about this relatively soon since it should be filed to fly in the first half of this year.
At this point, you can see most of the big gaps on that map are yellow. Those are the places where there just isn’t a whole lot of population. But there are some other notable holes. Louisiana? Central Illinois? The Appalachians (Knoxville)? It’s hard to believe it, but these are the kinds of markets that are left for Southwest to enter domestically.