Airline to fly direct to N.H. US Airways to start nonstop service to Manchester in April

Transportation

January 09, 1998|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

In an apparent first step toward launching its discount operation, US Airways announced yesterday that it will begin nonstop jet service from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Manchester, N.H., starting April 5.

The three daily round-trip flights -- with fares as low as $59 each way -- could foreshadow how aggressively the Arlington, Va.-based carrier intends to compete with Southwest Airlines once US Airways begins its discount service, dubbed US 2. Southwest also is expected to begin flying from BWI to Manchester later this year.

For Baltimore-area airline passengers, the announcement yesterday by US Airways quickly produced the ideal effect, with Southwest vowing to offer the lowest fares.

"We will be the low-fare leader to New England," said Kristie Kerr, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based carrier. Southwest offers fares as low as $59 one way to Providence, and it is likely to match or undercut US Airways fares if it initiates flights to Manchester.

US Airways said yesterday it will offer a $59 one-way walk-up fare on Saturday and Sunday mornings to Manchester as well as a 21-day, round-trip advance purchase fare of $59 with a Saturday night stay-over. The airline's lowest fare from BWI to Manchester is $99 one way, and passengers must connect through either Washington, D.C., or Philadelphia.

The airline has said that it expects to begin the US 2 discount service this spring and that BWI, a relatively uncrowded airport, will be pivotal to the operation, which hinges on moving planes and passengers quickly.

The announcement was the first indication about where US 2 will likely operate, although airline officials refused to comment on whether Manchester was part of the discount operation.

"The US 2 planning process is entering into an advanced stage," said US Airways spokesman Richard M. Weintraub. "Certainly we should have results [of the planning] within the next two or three months and very rapid implementation."

It is not clear how many discount flights US Airways would operate at BWI or whether it would launch low fares in markets where it faces little competition. Initially, the airline will dedicate 54 of its planes, or nearly 10 percent of its fleet, to US 2.

BWI Administrator Theodore E. Mathison declined yesterday to speculate about whether the Manchester service was the prelude to US 2 but said: "We're pleased to see US Airways add more flights, particularly since they've been cutting back here for the past 18 months."

The US 2 operation is aimed squarely at Southwest, which began discount service at BWI in 1993, sparking unprecedented fares and attracting hoardes of new travelers to BWI. In many markets, Southwest forced US Airways to lower its fares, but that resulted in staggering losses for US Airways, which had the highest costs in the industry.

In the fall, however, US Airways reached a five-year contract with its pilots, securing cost-cutting concessions that made it possible to begin US 2 and compete with Southwest as well as Delta Express, Delta Airlines' discount division.

Manchester has long been expected to be one of Southwest's next destinations on the East Coast. However, the airline's expansion plans have been set back this year because of delays by Boeing Co. in delivering new 737-700 aircraft.

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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