Southwest Airlines adds Sarasota, makes it 10 new cities in coronavirus expansion
Southwest Airlines has added Sarasota, Florida, to its coronavirus pandemic expansion. The move comes even as the carrier sees the recovery in air travel slow during the final months of 2020.
The Dallas-based discounter will begin flights to Sarasota/Bradenton (SRQ) in the first quarter of 2021, Southwest revealed in an investor update on Thursday. The Florida city joins Chicago O'Hare (ORD), Colorado Springs (COS), Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH), Jackson, Mississippi (JAN), and Savannah, Georgia (SAV), as additions that will join the airline's map in the first half of the new year.
Southwest did not say what cities it will serve from the city on Florida's Gulf Coast. However, precedent suggests it will connect Sarasota to one of its "hubs," such as Baltimore/Washington (BWI), Chicago Midway (MDW) and Houston Hobby (HOU).
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The airline is on a growth tear in what CEO Gary Kelly has described as an opportunity to "gain share" in the U.S. market. While every carrier has slashed schedules due to COVID, Southwest is the only one to both cut flying and add numerous new cities to its map. Others, including Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways and United Airlines, have added one or two destinations whereas Southwest has added 10 to date.
Southwest begins flights to Miami (MIA) and Palm Springs (PSP) this Sunday, Nov. 15. Seasonal winter flights to Montrose (MTJ) and Steamboat Springs (HDN) in Colorado begins Dec. 19.
The additions come even as U.S. air travel remains far below 2019 levels. Domestic passenger numbers were down 64% compared to last year during the week ending Nov. 10 — a four point increase compared to the prior week -- according to the latest data from trade group Airlines for America (A4A).
However, U.S. airlines continue to fly roughly 54% of what they flew a year ago during the same week. This translates into attractive discounts for willing flyers.
Related: Does Southwest Airlines have hubs? Yes, but don’t call them that.
“There are more seats chasing customers," Dave Harvey, vice president of Southwest's corporate travel division Southwest Business, told TPG during a tour of its safety procedures at Baltimore/Washington airport on Wednesday (Nov. 11).
In its investor update Thursday, Southwest noted that it sees a "deceleration in improving revenue trends" in November and December. However, it maintained its forecasts for the period.
Southwest will end artificial caps on the number of seats it sells on its flights on Dec. 1. Executives say that the combination of air filtration, enhanced cleaning procedures and mandating masks minimize the chance of COVID infection onboard an aircraft.
Related: Colorado braces to wave of new winter flights as Americans flock to ‘snow and sun’ destinations