Southwest delivers one-two low-fare punch

SFO -- One day after launching service with 18 daily flights at San Francisco International Airport, Southwest Airlines announced Monday an expansion of its SFO service.

Starting Nov. 4, the low-fare carrier will add eight daily flights to Los Angeles International Airport with an eye-popping one-way introductory fare of $39.

Southwest on Sunday started its largest initial new-city schedule in history at SFO, with low introductory one-way fares on departures to San Diego ($39), Las Vegas ($59) and Chicago ($99).

"It's a bullish sign to announce more flights right away, but our customers want lots of flights," Gary Kelly, chief executive officer of Southwest, said. "We look forward to growing here, and are putting no limits on it."

Kelly added that he is "extremely pleased" with demand for the launch's first SFO flights Sunday and Monday.

The airline is returning to SFO after canceling service six years ago due to high costs, flight delays and curbs on growth. But costs have been cut by nearly two-thirds, and the airline has the OK to grow at SFO, Kelly said.

Southwest is operating out of two gates in Terminal 1 and plans to add two more gates in November.

The quick expansion to include Los Angeles service comes less than three weeks after low-fare carrier Virgin America's SFO launch, which included five daily flights to Los Angeles International with an introductory fare of $44 one way. Virgin America also has two daily flights to New York.

Kelly admitted in an interview that he's watching Burlingame-based Virgin America closely, but noted that he "has to pay attention to every airline."

No doubt, he's also watching rival discounter JetBlue, which launched its SFO service to New York in May, helping make SFO a new hub for low fares.

Kelly said there's been demand for a long time for Southwest to come back to SFO.

"You take people where they want to go," said Kelly. "Lots of people want to fly to San Francisco International when they come to San Francisco."

Kelly arrived at Monday's celebration of Southwest's SFO launch in a Toyota Prius painted in psychedelic colors. The car was dubbed the "Luv Machine," and had a "Summer of Love" sign on it to commemorate the 40-year anniversary of San Francisco's Summer of Love.

"This is a wake-up call to other airlines," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, welcoming Southwest back. He sees the launch and new flights to L.A. creating more jobs and pushing air fares down at SFO.

"It's terrific," said Mike McCarron, an SFO spokesman, about the launch. McCarron added that summer traffic is up 3 percent at SFO as the peak of the season starts to wind down.

Kelly stressed that Southwest will continue to grow at its other Bay Area airports, Oakland International and Mineta San Jose International.

The Dallas-based carrier operates 148 daily flights in Oakland, where it will have access to 15 gates in the spring of 2008 as part of an expansion and renovation at the Oakland airport.

The airline operates 78 daily flights at the San Jose airport.

"This reinforces our commitment to California," Kelly said. "We now serve nine California airports."

When asked how long the introductory fares would last, Kelly said the airline will continue to push for low fares, even though it -- like all airlines -- is struggling with the high cost of fuel.

"We invented low fares," Kelly said.

Southwest flights can be purchased at .

Business writer Tim Simmers can be reached at 650-348-4361 or by e-mail at .