Southwest Airlines Is Turning To A Familiar Industry Playbook

Southwest Airlines has turned to a familiar playbook in the industry, though it is one that seems a little unfamiliar for the airline. As the carrier has been adding new cities to its route network, those cities are being connected to the airline’s bases, almost as if like a hub and spoke route network.

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Southwest Airlines is not known for massive hubs, but a few are developing. Photo: Getty Images

Southwest is adding new cities

Southwest Airlines is adding plenty of new cities to its route network. Recent additions and announcements include Miami, Palm Springs, Savannah, Colorado Springs, Steamboat Springs, and more. However, there are a few cities that keep popping up as to where Southwest is flying to. For example, out of Miami, Southwest is flying to the following destinations:

  • Tampa
  • Baltimore
  • Houston-Hobby
  • Chicago-Midway

Out of Chicago O’Hare, Southwest is flying to the following cities:

  • Nashville
  • Baltimore
  • Denver
  • Dallas-Love
  • Phoenix

Out of Colorado Springs, Southwest is adding the following routes:

  • Denver
  • Las Vegas
  • Phoenix
  • Dallas-Love
  • Chicago-Midway

Some hubs start to appear from this list. These are Baltimore, Chicago-Midway, Dallas-Love, and Phoenix, among others.

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Southwest Airlines has been busy adding new cities, but a lot of those cities have flights to the same places. Photo: Getty Images

Hub and spoke is nothing new

For the industry, the hub and spoke network is nothing new. Take every major full-service US airline, and you will quickly see they all have hubs. Some of them are massive. These include Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Newark, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, and more.

Hub and spoke networks allow airlines to serve more destinations. For a passenger needing to go from, say, Oklahoma City to Palm Springs, that passenger could fly from Oklahoma to a hub, like Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, or others, and then connect onwards to Palm Springs.

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For the first time in years, Southwest Airlines is in an aircraft surplus position and plans to take advantage of it. The consequence of that is it is growing a hub-and-spoke network. Photo: Getty Images

Hubs allow airlines to add incremental capacity without increasing their costs massively. This is why large hubs, like Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte, Detroit, Denver, and Chicago can be so profitable for carriers. They can add hundreds of flights and have a decent shot at filling most of those with paying customers.

Southwest is not known for this

Southwest Airlines has not always been known for a hub and spoke system. While the airline does have some “hubs,” it almost feels unfair to call them hubs. While the airline has extensive operations out of cities like Baltimore, Houston, and Nashville, and no doubt plenty of passengers connect there onto other Southwest flights, the airline does not rely entirely on a hub and spoke network. There is a scattering of some point-to-point routes, such as from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Ft. Myers, Florida, or Columbus, Ohio, to Reagan-National, Washington DC.

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To hold its own against massive hubs of carriers like United, connecting those cities to Southwest’s bases makes sense to offer passengers more choices. Photo: Getty Images

Southwest does not have massive hubs with banks like other airlines. This is because the carrier chooses to schedule its flights efficiently. It wants to keep its aircraft flying as much as possible in a day to earn revenue. A hub with banks can sometimes mean aircraft sit for a few hours on the ground before taking off for their next flight, which Southwest does not want to happen.

Right now, the hub-and-spoke network makes some sense for Southwest. While Southwest can target passengers who want to get solely between Colorado Springs and Chicago, the airline can also use the Colorado Springs connection to fill up some other aircraft. This is a benefit from the hub and spoke network that is sometimes difficult to replicate in a point-to-point market.

Do you think Southwest should expand and build out a larger hub and spoke network? Let us know in the comments!

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