Expansion: Rival Southwest details Phila. plans, linked to gate switches.

Nov. 8--DALLAS -- Southwest Airlines will start flying nonstop next spring from Philadelphia to three additional cities as part of a long-range plan to double its service as it gets more airport gates, the airline plans to announce today.

Southwest revealed the plans for new flights after introducing a new category of airfares that will be $10 to $30 more per flight, but will give business travelers perks that chief executive officer Gary Kelly said they have asked for.

The airline, the second-largest in passengers carried at Philadelphia International Airport, said that, on March 17, it would begin flying one round-trip a day between Philadelphia and Austin and San Antonio, Texas, and twice a day between Philadelphia and St. Louis. The flights to Austin and San Antonio will be the only nonstop airline service on those routes from Philadelphia.

The expanded Philadelphia service will be among 30 new flights that Southwest plans to start in the spring nationwide. Travelers can find schedules and fares for the flights in the airline's system starting today, officials said.

Executive vice president Ron Ricks said Southwest hasn't been able to expand Philadelphia service beyond its current 63 daily flights to 16 cities until Delta Air Lines moved from the airport's Terminal E to Terminal A-East.

Delta's move, scheduled for next week, will provide Southwest with one additional gate by spring. A doubling of flights won't occur until a multiyear project adds gates to the end of Terminal E, Ricks said.

Southwest's initiative for frequent business travelers is named Business Select. For the higher fare, passengers will be guaranteed a place in the "A" group, the first to board a flight, and will get a free drink and extra credit in the Rapid Rewards frequent-flier program. Southwest doesn't have reserved seats, instead boarding flights in "A," "B" or "C" groups, depending on when a passenger checked in.

The Business Select fares will be higher than current full fares, which were renamed simply Business, but cheaper than Wanna Get Away fares, the traditional, advance-purchase prices, Kelly said at a news conference at Southwest's headquarters.

The airline also created a premium category in the frequent-flier program, for those who fly 16 round-trips or 32 individual flights in a year. Those customers will automatically be in the "A" boarding group.

The perks for frequent fliers are being introduced as Southwest rolls out a new boarding process nationwide designed to end congestion at gates. Passengers will now board in the order in which they checked in, rather than en masse as part of the "A," "B" or "C" group.

Contact staff writer Tom Belden at 215-854-2454 or tbelden@phillynews.com

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