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Southwest unveils major summer expansion with a whopping 36 routes

March 25, 2021
8 min read
Southwest unveils major summer expansion with a whopping 36 routes
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Southwest Airlines' route network is growing like weeds.

On Thursday, the Dallas-based carrier announced its latest network expansion, including its Myrtle Beach launch details, seven new routes to Austin and a flurry of nonstop service to other Southwest cities.

The move comes as the carrier is "add[ing] flights to address closer-in demand for leisure destinations while making foundational additions to our map that position our network for the future," Andrew Watterson, Southwest's chief commercial officer, says in a statement.

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Southwest's 15th new city is getting 10 routes

Southwest announced plans to serve Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (MYR), along with two new cities — Bellingham, Washington (BLI), and Eugene, Oregon (EUG) — on March 8, giving it a total of 17 new cities that Southwest has added or announced since the pandemic began to affect the United States.

Southwest promised that flights to the first of those three cities —MYR — would launch "in time for summer vacations."

True to its word, flights begin on May 23, with service to Baltimore (BWI), Chicago Midway (MDW) and Nashville (BNA).

On May 29, the carrier will start Saturday-only service to Dallas (DAL) and Pittsburgh (PIT), but those routes will expand on June 6 to include Sunday flights to Dallas and five-weekly flights to Pittsburgh on each day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The five remaining routes launch on June 6, with the full list and frequencies below. All flights are available for purchase today, with fares starting at $69 one way.

DestinationFrequencyNotes
Atlanta (ATL)*1x Daily
Nashville (BNA)2x DailyOne daily Sat flight from May 23 to June 6
Baltimore (BWI)3x DailyTwo daily Sat flights from May 23 to June 6
Chicago Midway (MDW)2x DailyOne daily flight from May 23 to June 6
Columbus (CMH)*5x WeeklyNo service on Tue & Wed
Indianapolis (IND)*5x WeeklyNo service on Tue & Wed
Pittsburgh (PIT)5x WeeklyNo service on Tue & Wed (Sat only from May 23 to June 6)
Dallas/Love Field (DAL)2x WeeklyService on Sat & Sun only (Sat only from May 23 to June 6)
Kansas City (MCI)*2x WeeklyService on Sat & Sun only
St. Louis (STL)*2x WeeklyService on Sat & Sun only
*Markets without asterisk begin service May 23. Asterisk indicates service start date of June 6.

Some of the flights to Myrtle Beach might be puzzling for some, like the 317-mile hop from Atlanta or the 399-mile flight from Baltimore. Many would-be flyers in those local markets might've driven to Myrtle Beach in the past.

Southwest, however, is banking on customers choosing a more convenient flight instead. Plus, with two checked bags included, one of which can be a golf bag, travelers need not worry about added baggage fees.

In a statement, Watterson said that "for Myrtle Beach, we know the arrival of our two bags fly free — with a golf bag able to count as one of those — will encourage visitors to fly Southwest instead of drive, and consider a quicker trip with us and our value propositions of bags fly free, golf bags fly free, low fares and flexible policies."

On Thursday, United Airlines also unveiled a major summer network expansion as well, including three new routes to MYR, as the airlines expect travelers to flock to South Carolina's Atlantic coast.

Even more growth: Southwest expands again, adds Colorado Springs, Jackson and Savannah

Austin is getting hotter

Southwest plans to offer nonstop service from Austin (AUS) to a whopping 37 cities this summer.

The carrier is adding seven new destinations from the central Texas city, as follows:

DestinationFrequency
Sacramento (SMF)1x Daily (No service on Sat effective June 6)
Burbank (BUR)*1x Daily, except Sat
Miami (MIA)*1x Daily
Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP)*1x Daily, except Sat
Orange County (SNA)*1x Daily, except Sat
Salt Lake City (SLC)*1x Daily
Destin/Fort Walton Beach (VPS)*Sat & Sun only
*Markets without asterisk begin service May 9. Asterisk indicates service start date of June 6.

The Austin additions are perhaps the most interesting. The city has seen explosive growth in air service, most recently from American Airlines, which is adding ten new routes starting on May 6.

As one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country, there's been a steady stream of companies moving into Austin. Plus, with the city's vibrant arts and entertainment scene, it's a popular destination for leisure travelers.

Combined, this makes it a lucrative market for airlines, especially as they look to recover from the pandemic.

Southwest isn’t the only airline to boost flights to Austin recently. Alaska, Allegiant Air, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue have all unveiled new routes to the city this year. Additionally, at the recent Raymond James conference, Delta President Glen Hauenstein told investors that the carrier plans to reinstate just two of its five focus cities, with Austin and Raleigh-Durham returning.

In Watterson's words, "while other carriers have fallen in and out of love with Austin across the years, we’re continuing to build on nearly 45 years of offering affordable and relevant air service for Central Texans and those who are headed there."

More in Austin: American Airlines doubles down on Austin with 10 new routes

More nonstop service to other Southwest cities

Southwest isn't stopping there. The carrier will also add new flights to a variety of other cities, as it seeks to capitalize on summer travelers looking for a mid-pandemic escape.

This includes three new flights to Bozeman, Montana (BZN), one of the 17 new cities that Southwest has added or announced since the pandemic began to affect the United States. The carrier will fly from Dallas (DAL), Chicago Midway (MDW) and Phoenix (PHX) on weekends between June 6 and Aug, 16, joining upcoming daily service from Denver (DEN) and Las Vegas (LAS).

Bozeman serves as one of the gateways to Yellowstone National Park, and it's seen explosive growth from airlines vying for travelers seeking outdoor-friendly escapes.

Other additions for Southwest include a Colorado-focused expansion in Hayden/Steamboat Springs (HDN) and Montrose/Telluride (MTJ) — two other new pandemic-era cities for the airline. The carrier will fly daily to both airports from Denver between June 1 and Aug. 16, and will also offer weekend service from Dallas/Love Field (DAL) during the same time period.

Additionally, on May 9, Southwest will launch new daily flights from Denver (DEN) to Richmond (RIC), Las Vegas (LAS) to Palm Springs (PSP) and Miami (MIA) to St. Louis (STL). The airline will also fly between LAS and Chicago O'Hare (ORD) starting on May 9, with four-weekly flights, which will get boosted to six weekly frequencies on June 6.

Other new daily flights include Nashville (BNA) to Islip (ISP) and Chicago Midway (MDW) to Portland, Maine (PWM), which are slated to be operated between June 6 and Aug. 16.

It's possible Southwest will extend these flights beyond Aug. 16 in the coming months when the carrier extends its schedule.

More to Bozeman: Southwest Airlines add 6 routes to 2 brand-new destinations

Even more flights on weekends

Many summer travelers plan week-long trips, departing and returning on Saturdays or Sundays. Southwest has six new flights to cater to such passengers, as follows:

OriginDestinationFrequency
Charleston (CHS)Kansas City (MCI)Sat only
Dallas/Love Field (DAL)Norfolk (ORF)Sun only
Dallas/Love Field (DAL)Sarasota/Bradenton (SRQ)Sat only
Grand Rapids (GRR)Sarasota/Bradenton (SRQ)Sat only
Milwaukee (MKE)Destin/Fort Walton Beach (VPS)Sat only
Salt Lake City (SLC)Tampa (TPA)Sat only

Many of these other point-to-point additions are seemingly aimed in response to competitors. Southwest's new Milwaukee and St. Louis routes come just weeks after Spirit Airlines announced new service to both cities. Southwest will go head-to-head with Delta on the new Salt Lake City to Tampa route.

Either way, as summer travel kicks into high gear, Southwest will likely have a flight for you.

Featured image by NurPhoto via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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