Southwest Eyes New Routes From Chicago & Houston

Southwest Airlines will add two more big North American hub airports to its schedules next year. The airline plans to start flying from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. In addition, Southwest Airlines is returning to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport after a long time away.

Southwest Airlines is adding Chicago O’Hare and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to its timetables. Photo: Getty Images.

The airline made the announcement earlier today, Monday, October 12. While keeping mum on where Southwest Airlines will be flying to from these two airports, further details are expected soon, and flights are anticipated to begin in the first half of 2021.

“Today’s announcement furthers our commitment to both cities,” says Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly.

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Southwest Airlines to start flying from Chicago O’Hare

For years, Southwest Airlines has avoided the big hub airports in both Chicago and Houston. In Chicago, the airline has focused its attention on Midway International Airport. Southwest Airlines has a big presence there. The airline carried over 18 million passengers in and out of Midway in 2019.

To get an idea of how dominant Southwest Airlines is here, the airline with the second biggest market share at Midway is Delta Air Lines. In contrast to Southwest, Delta flew less than half a million passengers in and out of Midway over 2019.

Before the downturn, Southwest Airlines was operating as many as 260 flights in and out of Midway each day.

“It’s been on our wish list for a long time to supplement Midway,” Southwest’s Chief Commercial Officer, Andrew Watterson, told The Chicago Tribune.

According to Mr Watterson, it’s all about offering customers a choice of airports, particularly in the big, physically sprawling cities with multiple airports. It’s also about keeping Southwest’s employees in work. The airline has over 4,800 employees living in and around Chicago.

Southwest Airlines will add flights from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport early next year. Photo: Chicago Department of Aviation

To date, Southwest Airlines has made a point of avoiding involuntary lay-offs. That’s not to say the airline hasn’t asked for voluntary retirements, pay cuts, and a winding back of workplace conditions, but Southwest Airlines is trying to keep as many people in work as possible. Aircraft and passenger numbers are down at Midway this year. New routes from a nearby airport are one way to keep existing local employees busy.

After 15 years, Southwest Airlines going back to George Bush Intercontinental Airport

A similar scenario is playing out in Houston. George Bush Intercontinental Airport was one of Southwest’s original airports. But the airline later made Houston’s Hobby Airport its Houston hub. Southwest Airlines hasn’t flown out of George Bush Intercontinental Airport since 2005.

Now, Southwest is heading back. Southwest Airlines has around 4,000 employees living in the Houston area. Again, from a customer perspective, it’s about added choice. For the airline, it’s about keeping people in work.

All in all, it’s a rather neat strategy, but goes against the general tide in the industry. While many of Southwest’s competitors are busy cutting routes, Southwest has adopted the opposite tactic. It has added routes lately. Just in the last few days, they’ve announced a raft of new flights out of several cities, including San Diego, Palm Springs, and Charlotte.

After 15 years, Southwest Airlines is going back to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Photo: George Bush Intercontinental Airport Newsroom

The airline has also made a long time virtue of flying out of secondary airports in many North American cities. Doing so costs less. That helps keep fares down and the airline’s balance sheet in good shape. In some cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, Southwest Airlines does already fly into more than one airport.

But the decision to add O’Hare and George Bush Intercontinental Airport to Southwest’s schedules is a break from the airline’s standard operating procedure. But in a tough year, airlines need to think outside the box.

What do you think? Is Southwest starting flights from O’Hare and George Bush Intercontinental Airports a good idea? Let us know in the comments section.