* Carrier to double flights from Washington area airport
* New flights follow purchase of slots from American
(Adds aviation consultants' comments, closing share prices)
By Karen Jacobs
March 24 Southwest Airlines Co will more
than double its flights from Ronald Reagan Washington National
Airport this year with new nonstop routes to cities including
Akron-Canton, Ohio; Indianapolis and Dallas Love Field, it said
The carrier also plans to add nonstop flights between Reagan
National and Chicago Midway, Houston Hobby, St. Louis and other
U.S. airports it serves.
The new flights came about after Southwest bought takeoff
and landing rights that formerly belonged to American Airlines
Group at the airport near Washington. American agreed to
divest the rights under a deal with the U.S. government that
cleared the way for its merger late last year. With the
additional access, Southwest will be increasing service at
Reagan National to 44 daily departures from 17.
New York-based JetBlue Airways also won takeoff and
landing rights, or slots, at Reagan National from American, and
said earlier this month it planned flights to markets including
Charleston, South Carolina, and Hartford, Connecticut. The U.S.
Justice Department stipulated that slots being sold should go to
low-fare carriers to boost competition at Reagan National, a
popular, gate-restricted airport that serves the political and
The new flights from Southwest could bring lower fares
between Washington and some big U.S. hub cities such as Chicago,
said Robert Mann, an airline consultant in Port Washington, New
"You've got nonstops in a market like Washington-Chicago
where the majority of service is to O'Hare, and it's at a fairly
high price so in that sense service to Midway undoubtedly will
discipline the O'Hare market," Mann said.
He said Southwest's service between Washington and Love
Field would "provide price discipline" in the Dallas market
considering that larger carriers like American fly to the D.C.
area from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
SMALL CITIES TO LOSE SERVICE
But Michael Boyd, an aviation consultant in Evergreen,
Colorado, said the new service from Southwest and JetBlue in
Washington will come at the expense of smaller markets that had
their flights cut by American as a result of the divestitures.
Cities that are losing daily nonstop flights to Washington from
American include Savannah and Augusta in Georgia; Tallahassee,
Florida; Little Rock, Arkansas, and Omaha, Nebraska.
"It's not going to be a sea change and a huge improvement,"
Southwest will add daily service between Reagan National and
Chicago Midway; Nashville, Tennessee, and New Orleans on Aug.
10. At the end of September, Southwest plans three more
roundtrip flights to Chicago Midway out of Reagan National, as
well as two roundtrip flights to and from Tampa Bay, Florida.
In early November, Southwest will start service to
Akron-Canton, Dallas Love Field and Indianapolis, and add more
nonstop flights between Reagan National and St. Louis and
Houston Hobby airport.
American's former parent, AMR Corp, and US Airways Group
agreed to give up 52 pairs of takeoff and landing rights, or 104
slots, at Reagan National as well as gates at five other
airports to settle an antitrust lawsuit by the U.S. Justice
Department seeking to block their merger. The merger was
completed in December.
Southwest successfully bid for 54 slots at Reagan National,
and it also acquired slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport that
American agreed to sell.
Shares of Southwest Airlines rose 0.8 percent to close at
$23.37 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday. Other airlines
closed higher, with American Airlines rising 1.9 percent to
close at $36.80 and JetBlue up 0.2 percent at $8.53.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; editing by Tom Brown and