Southwest to begin Dulles flights in Oct.

BUSINESS DIGEST

July 14, 2006|By MEREDITH COHN | MEREDITH COHN,SUN REPORTER

Southwest Airlines said yesterday that it would begin service from Washington Dulles International Airport in October with 12 daily flights.

The airline plans to offer direct flights to Chicago, Las Vegas and Orlando and Tampa Bay, Fla., and connecting service to 35 other cities from Northern Virginia's Dulles.

The move is not initially expected to lure too many travelers from rival Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Southwest will use two gates at Dulles made available when the low-cost startup Independence Air folded in January. Southwest's operation at BWI was hurt by that airline while it was in business because its prices were lower, and Southwest chose not to match them.

Analysts labeled Southwest's move into Dulles something of a defensive effort to keep other low-cost carriers from expanding widely at the airport. Dulles is more expensive and more congested than most airports that Southwest serves.

But Southwest said the move was part of its expansion plans to serve the growing Northern Virginia market, and executives said it would strengthen the airline as a whole without damaging the BWI operation.

"Dulles will be a fantastic complement to our Baltimore-Washington operation," Gary Kelly, Southwest's chief executive officer, said in a statement.

"Our customers in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas now have another excellent choice of airports when they want Southwest Airlines' convenient, low-fare service," Kelly said.

Brandy King, a spokeswoman for Southwest, said the airline's research shows that there are more than enough passengers for both airports, even as Southwest grows at Dulles.

With 168 daily flights and four more coming in September, BWI's Southwest service eclipses the number to be offered at Dulles. Both airports are about equal distance from downtown Washington, and all the cities that Southwest will serve from Dulles already have more service from BWI, according to Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman.

But BWI has a lot of passengers to lose. It garners half its overall passengers from the Washington metropolitan area, and 10 percent from Virginia. Dean said Independence had hurt BWI. Southwest's move into Philadelphia also "modestly" hurt BWI, he said.

"Any time Southwest starts flying it hurts somebody," said Dean Headley, an associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University and co-author of an annual airline quality survey. "But I don't discount their statement about there being enough passengers. They are the last people to do something to hurt themselves."

The move into Dulles, Headley said, could have more of an impact on other airlines that compete on the same routes.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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