AirTran Airways is looking to make Baltimore a major stop in its flight plan and moved a little further in that direction Tuesday by adding daily flights to New Orleans and Indianapolis.
They were the latest of a number of new flights the airline has announced will come to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. In December and February, it will begin flights to the Caribbean, including to Nassau, Bahamas, and Montego Bay, Jamaica. For the first time this year, it will also begin operating flights to Los Angeles year round instead of seasonally.
BWI officials said AirTran's expansion helps further solidify the airport as a strong destination for discount airlines, which benefits the airport during a tough economy, when passengers are looking to pinch pennies.
The Florida-based airline has been aggressively expanding at BWI as it tries to better spread its flights throughout the country. About 82 percent of the airline's flights came in and out of Atlanta nearly a decade ago. The airline is now putting more emphasis on other cities, positioning BWI as a major stop in the Mid-Atlantic and Milwaukee in the Midwest. Flights from Atlanta now account for 52 percent of the airline's flights, while BWI accounts for 11 percent. AirTran, which began flying out of BWI in 2001, is the fastest-growing airline at the airport.
AirTran is expanding at BWI even as the numbers of flights throughout the company have remained flat because consumers are traveling less during the weak economy.
"We continue to grow in Baltimore," said Christopher White, an AirTran spokesman. "We have had to take flights out of somewhere else to put in Baltimore. It's a good indication to how important BWI is to us. We're taking capacity out of other airports to bring to Baltimore."
The airport became a destination for discount carriers when Southwest moved there in 1993. BWI is the 15th-cheapest airport in the U.S., with an average fare price of $263.87 in the first quarter of this year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
JetBlue Airlines recently announced it was coming into the market with flights to Boston, and the airline said it hoped to further expand in the future. Southwest also announced this summer new flights from BWI to New York and Boston. There have already been pricing wars between the discount airlines, particularly on the Boston routes.
"This is a good market for discount airlines," said Jonathan Dean, a BWI spokesman. "BWI has a long-standing position as a low-fare airport for this region."
Southwest Airlines is the leading airline at BWI, with a passenger market share of 51.6 percent, as of August, the most recent data available. AirTran Airways is the second-largest airline with a 15.5 percent market share. The number of passengers flying out of BWI increased 6 percent in August, compared with the year before.
"In the current economy, airlines have obviously cut capacity, but BWI has still fared better than many airports," Dean said.
AirTran hired 42 crew members, increasing the work force by a third at BWI to deal with the added flights. It also spent $45 million to renovate its baggage service and carousel area.
White said there was a "very good possibility" the airline could expand even more at BWI in the future.
He said additional competition from Southwest and JetBlue wouldn't deter the airline. White said AirTran offers amenities, such as Wi-Fi on every flight, and business class seating, that JetBlue and Southwest don't.
"There are great opportunities for us at BWI right now," White said. "It's a great market for us. It's a really good mix of business and leisure travelers. It's a great alternative to the other ... airlines."