Southwest to offer BWI-Phoenix service 2,300-mile nonstop trip to be carrier's longest


October 03, 1998|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

Southwest Airlines is taking its biggest leap yet toward making what was once a short-hop airline into a transcontinental carrier.

The airline plans in December to begin nonstop service from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Phoenix, a 2,300-mile flight that will be the longest on its schedule.

While company officials say they have no immediate plans for regular transcontinental flights, the new route is atypical for Southwest, which built itself into a major airline by offering inexpensive flights on short routes.

If Southwest succeeds in flying longer routes, industry observers say, the company could affect the rates of passenger flights across North America.

"It's only a matter of time before all the other carriers start sharpening their pencils," said Bob Zuskin, research director for GRA Aviation Specialists Inc., an aviation consultant in Herndon, Va. "Southwest made a name for itself finding over-priced routes and undercutting fares, and there is no low-fare carrier flying that far. So this is a great opportunity for them."

Besides being constrained by corporate philosophy, Southwest's routes had been limited by the type of aircraft it flies -- Boeing 737s. The older versions lacked the fuel efficiency to fly coast to coast. But the airline increased its range with several new 700-series 737s, which it began buying last year.

Southwest started service at BWI in 1993 with eight daily flights to Cleveland and Chicago. By December, it will have 74 daily flights from Baltimore, with nonstop service to 18 cities. BWI is renovating one of its piers to accommodate Southwest's expansion.

US Airways remains the largest carrier at BWI, with 146 daily flights. Of those flights, 64 are shorter routes that have been taken over by the company's MetroJet service, a low-fare airline whose start in June was considered a direct challenge to Southwest's strategy.

Zuskin said Southwest's expansion also helps seal BWI's reputation as a low-fare airport. In competition with Dulles International and Reagan Washington National airports nearer to Washington, BWI has aggressively pursued the low-fare carriers.

Southwest also plans to offer nonstop service to San Antonio in ** December.

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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