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In a move that may alarm its larger rivals, Southwest Airlines said Monday that it is going to start service from Chicago’s and Houston’s main, larger airports.
In saying it will begin operations at Chicago’s O’Hare and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental, Southwest said it will continue to fly from the secondary airports in both cities that it has long served, Chicago Midway and Houston Hobby. Southwest already serves multiple airports in some metropolitan areas, like Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.
But the move, coming at a time when airlines are making bold moves in response to the travel drop from the coronavirus pandemic.
Southwest portrayed its expansion into O’Hare and Intercontinental, due to start in 2021, as providing better service overall in two of the nation’s biggest markets. The service at O’Hare is new, but the airline operated at both Hobby and Intercontinental in Houston from 1980 to 2005.
“Today’s announcement furthers our commitment to both cities as we add service to share Southwest’s value and hospitality with more leisure and business travelers,” said CEO Gary Kelly in a statement.
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From its start in 1971, Southwest learned the advantages of secondary airports, which were both less congested and avoided the “fortress hubs” of the largest carriers. In Southwest’s early years, United dominated O’Hare and Continental, now also part of United, operated a heavy schedule from Intercontinental.
In its hometown of Dallas, Southwest has always flown out of Love Field, not American Airlines’ stronghold of Dallas/Fort Worth.
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A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 prepares to land. The carrier is expanding to two new airports, Chicago Midway and Houston Intercontinental. (Photo: Southwest Airlines)
Other airlines are starting to make airport switches. JetBlue announced Oct. 7 that its “focus” airport on the West Coast is now Los Angeles International, where it long operated. It pulled out of Long Beach, California, the day before the announcement. In 2017, Long Beach rejected JetBlue’s request to operate international flights.
Southwest says it operated out of Houston’s Intercontinental when it started 49 years ago but began operations at Hobby as well soon after. It employs more than 4,000 in Houston. In Chicago, Southwest said it has 4,800 workers, making it one of the city’s largest employers.
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