Southwest Airlines yesterday announced plans to add nonstop service from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to three more cities by summer, a move that is expected to drive down fares among competitors.
The Dallas-based airline said it will offer a total of eight daily flights to St. Louis, Birmingham, Ala., and Louisville, Ky., by July 8. In addition, it will add four nonstop flights to Chicago.
The flights will be Southwest's first new service at BWI since it launched its East Coast operation in September with eight daily flights to Chicago and Cleveland.
Southwest's arrival triggered a flurry of fare-cutting by other airlines, like USAir and Continental, making BWI a center for fare wars along the East Coast and boosting passenger traffic.
Beginning May 26, Southwest will initiate service between Baltimore and St. Louis with two daily, nonstop flights, and add a third in July. The unrestricted one-way fare will be $99, compared to the lowest unrestricted fare of $304 currently available.
Southwest typically flies 500 miles or less, but the flight to St. Louis, about 800 miles, will allow Baltimore passengers to make a one-stop connection with Southwest flights going to 16 destinations, including Phoenix and Houston.
On July 8, Southwest will begin BWI's first nonstop service to Birmingham with two flights a day at a $99 one-way unrestricted fare. It will also begin offering three flights to Louisville. The planned $69 one-way fare to Louisville compares to the $99 one-way fare offered by Continental Airlines, which flies to Louisville four times a day.
Typically, Southwest's competitors have matched its fares, and yesterday TWA said it would match the fares to St. Louis.
Neither USAir nor Continental could be reached for comment yesterday.
"Southwest continues to be a catalyst for other airlines to pay attention to the market here," said BWI's marketing director Jay Hierholzer, who predicted other carriers would match fares and possibly add flights.
In response to the increased competition, USAir has added two dozen flights at BWI this year, and it initiated its quick turnaround program, which aims to cut costs and boost revenue by getting jets back in the air more quickly at BWI.
Yesterday, the airline announced that it will expand that program from 22 aircraft a day to 100 in July, making an additional 12,300 seats a day available without using additional planes.
The quick turnaround operation, designed to use both workers and aircraft more efficiently, has proved highly successful for Southwest, the nation's only profitable major airline.
Typically, its planes spend only about 15 minutes on the ground.