Southwest Airlines details launch plan for its 16th new city
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Southwest’s route map is about to get two more lines.
On Thursday, the Dallas-based carrier announced launch plans for Eugene, Oregon (EUG) — the 16th airport announced or started by the carrier since the pandemic began in the U.S.
Southwest will fly three daily routes to the city from two of its largest West Coast operating bases. Twice-daily service from Oakland (OAK) and once-daily service from Las Vegas (LAS) begins on Aug. 29, 2021.
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Adding service to Eugene has been a long time coming for Southwest, as Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s chief operating officer, told TPG in an interview. “A lot of the cities that we’ve announced were on our wish list, but we’ve been starved for aircraft for a few years now… Now we’re able to go pretty deep in our wish list because we have ample aircraft due to the demand shortfalls of the pandemic.”
Southwest, and its competitors, have been busy beefing up service to outdoor-friendly destinations during the pandemic. As leisure travelers return to the skies, they’re heading to beaches and national parks with plenty of built-in social distancing.
While Eugene offers some leisure activities like riverside parks and trails, Watterson told TPG that the move is designed to open a brand-new market to the carrier. Southwest doesn’t have many Rapid Rewards frequent flyer members based in the area, and there’s “a lot of new customer potential for us.”
To help market the new service, Southwest has enlisted the local airport authorities and municipality to spread the word. The carrier received an incentive package that includes things like waived landing fees, but the “biggest benefit for us is that the airport and chamber of commerce talks us up and gets it known in the community. That is more valuable than money because that really helps turbocharge the maturation.”
Right now, Southwest is “under-penetrated” in Eugene. Most locals either choose a competitor — Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, United and newcomer Avelo offer service there — or drive two hours north to Portland to catch a flight.
But Southwest sees value in the community at large. There are two large schools nearby, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, which should help bolster demand. “We think the outdoor part during COVID will be short-term interest, but longer-term, the universities will provide a lot of good back and forth traffic for visitation.”
As for why Southwest chose to connect Eugene with Oakland and Las Vegas first, Watterson explained that this is the ideal “starting pattern.” With the two nonstop routes, Southwest opens up more than 30 connecting itineraries from day one. “If we see people connecting over Oakland and Vegas to a certain location, then there’ll be fodder for adding a nonstop,” he said.
According to Watterson, there’s also plenty of O&D (origin and destination) potential for the two routes. Turns out, Department of Transportation data analyzed by Cirium shows that nearly 50 people flew from Eugene to Oakland each day in 2019. That number jumps to 85 for Las Vegas.
When you factor in connections, Southwest may not have a hard time filling its 143-seat Boeing 737-700s, especially for the locals going to Hawaii. “I think we have a pretty good Hawaii offering via Oakland… A nice leisure offering to Hawaii for post-pandemic will be a big hit,” Watterson said. “So that’ll be a good way to start people off because Hawaii is a good allure.”
Eugene is the latest new pin for Southwest’s route map. In March, Southwest announced its intention to add three more cities, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (MYR); Bellingham, Washington (BLI); and Eugene, Oregon (EUG). The carrier already detailed its introductory service to MYR with ten new routes. Bellingham service is slated to begin in the second half of 2021.
Featured photo by Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock
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