Southwest Opens BWI-NY Route

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Southwest Airlines today will wade into the airfare wars between New York and the Washington area, with an announcement of new one-way flights from Baltimore for as little as $49.

The airline is introducing three daily nonstop flights between LaGuardia and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall airports beginning June 28. Analysts estimate that travelers from Baltimore now are paying about $75 each way, excluding special sales.

Southwest is adding the route and others around the country partly to attract more business customers, said Bob Jordan, the airline's executive vice president of strategy and planning. Business flyers tend to buy pricier last-minute tickets, boosting airline revenue. The $49 price between Baltimore and Washington is a regular fare, not a limited-time sale price.

"We want to win our fair share of business customers," Jordan said. "You have to be where they want to fly. A lot of our business network want to go to places like New York and Baltimore and Minneapolis."

Washington-New York is one of the busiest travel corridors in the country, which makes it a hotly competitive market for airlines, as well as for Amtrak and intercity buses. Discounting is already extensive, given the state of the economy.

On March 29, JetBlue Airways began offering one-way tickets between New York and Washington for as low as $39. Within days United Airlines, American Airlines and Northwest Airlines matched the deal.

Jordan said even he was having trouble keeping up with the competing offers.

"We all know we have a pretty crummy economy," he said. "It's like a fare sale a day from the airline industry. It's a little tough to keep track."

Analysts expect prices to creep back up once the JetBlue sale ends on Wednesday -- although not by much, given the new Southwest service.

Southwest has recently expanded flights serving Minneapolis and Denver and is planning to increase service to Boston's Logan Airport. The airline also plans to add service between LaGuardia and Chicago's Midway International Airport.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company