Southwest Airlines adds 4 new routes; Hawaii and Florida are winners

Jan 28, 2021

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Florida and Hawaii are the big winners in the latest expansion announced by Southwest Airlines.

The nation’s biggest low-cost carrier confirmed four new routes Tuesday. They include two to Miami (MIA) as well as one to Sarasota (SRQ) on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The fourth will be a high-profile new route to Hawaii that will come from Southwest’s expanding operation in Long Beach, California (LGB). From there, Southwest will launch daily nonstop service to the Kahului Airport (OGG) on the island of Maui. The airline is rolling out the service with introductory fares as low as $99 one way.

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The new service continues to expand Southwest’s offerings to warm-weather markets that have held up better than most during the pandemic. Though travel remains down drastically overall compared to pre-pandemic times, the few who are still traveling are almost entirely leisure travelers – and they seem to be seeking out destinations that accommodate outdoor recreation and social distancing.  Similarly, the carrier has also pushed into mountain destinations like Montrose and Steamboat Springs, Colorado, that are known for nearby skiing.

Southwest’s latest additions come during a broader period of breakneck growth for the carrier. Southwest has used the pandemic as an expansion opportunity, adding 14 new destinations since March 2020. Of those, only one was announced prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

That’s the fastest expansion pace ever of the airline’s route map – a remarkable turn for a carrier that typically adds only a few new destinations a year and sometimes adds none at all. In doing so, Southwest has been able to push into new markets as many of its rivals have cut back during the COVID-19 crisis.

Hello, Miami … : Southwest Airlines CEO says Miami push part of long-term strategy, not ‘pandemic play’

“It allows us to play offense,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said during a December webinar with The Wings Club of New York. He said that by plugging new destinations — even smaller ones — into the carrier’s unique network, “it really puts us in a different competitive situation compared to the rest of our airline competitors.”

While there are no new pins on Southwest’s map this time, three of the four new routes grow Southwest’s presence in some of its newest markets.

From Miami – where Southwest inaugurated new service just this past November – it will add new daily service to both Atlanta and Dallas Love Field beginning March 11. That will give Southwest a total of eight destinations there. The airline’s other routes from Miami are Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Denver, Houston Hobby, Nashville and Tampa.

More: Southwest Airlines adds Sarasota, makes it 10 new cities in coronavirus expansion 

Q&A with TPG: Southwest CEO Gary Kelly chats about his legacy, new cities and change fees

In Sarasota, Southwest’s first flights won’t begin until February – but the carrier is already expanding its schedule there. Southwest will add nonstop service to Atlanta starting March 11, giving it a total of seven year-round or seasonal routes from the city on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

On the West Coast, Southwest’s new Maui route from Long Beach comes on top of the 13 destinations it already serves from the Los Angeles-area airport. It also will be Southwest’s second Hawaii route from Long Beach, joining previously announced Honolulu service that’s also set to begin March 11. With that, Long Beach will become Southwest’s fifth mainland city with service to Hawaii, joining its fellow California airports of Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Jose.

However, the new Long Beach-Maui service is being added as Southwest has temporarily cut back service elsewhere in Hawaii. Those cuts have been focused on the island of Kauai, where Southwest has suspended its two mainland routes from the Lihue airport — a change that comes as Kauai has implement a “resort bubble” concept that requires visitors to wear a wrist monitoring bracelet in exchange for eased quarantine rules. Southwest still operates on inter-island route from Lihue, connecting it to Honolulu.

Growth mode: Southwest Airlines is getting more gates at Denver Airport

Overall, the 14 new destinations added or announced by Southwest since March 2020: Chicago O’Hare (ORD); Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH); Jackson, Mississippi (JAN); Savannah, Georgia (SAV); Miami and Sarasota in Florida; Fresno (FAT), Palm Springs (PSP) and Santa Barbara (SBA) in California; Colorado Springs (COS), Montrose/Telluride (MTJ) and Steamboat Springs (HDN) in Colorado; and Cozumel (CZM) in Mexico.

Launch details for Southwest Airlines’ four new routes

Miami (MIA)

Atlanta (ATL): Two daily round-trip flights begin March 11

Dallas Love (DAL): One daily round-trip fight begins March 11

More: Southwest adds another new Colorado ski town, unveils Miami and Palm Springs routes

Sarasota (SRQ)

Atlanta: One daily round-trip fight begins March 11

Maui/Kahului (OGG)

Long Beach, California (LGB): One daily round-trip fight begins March 11

Additional reporting by Zach Griff, TPG

Featured photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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