In 18 months, low-fare giant Southwest Airlines has doubled the number of flights, added two nonstop destinations and shot up to become the second biggest carrier at Pittsburgh International Airport.
But it's not stopping there.
The airline announced yesterday it would add nonstop service to another destination, Baltimore/Washington International Airport, on March 11, offering one-way fares as low as $39. It will start with three flights a day.
As a result of its rapid growth, Southwest also will take over a third gate at Pittsburgh International. The Baltimore/Washington service will give the airline 23 nonstop flights a day from the airport.
That's 13 more than when it launched service from Pittsburgh in May 2005 with flights to Orlando, Fla., Philadelphia, Chicago and Las Vegas. About a year ago, it added nonstop flights to Phoenix and Tampa, Fla. Baltimore/Washington will be its seventh destination.
"We're thrilled," Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said. "The market has really embraced us."
With the new service, Southwest will be going head to head with US Airways, still Pittsburgh's largest carrier, and United for the Washington, D.C., market. There has been no low-fare competition to the market since the demise of Independence Air in January.
US Airways is offering a special e-saver one-way fare to Baltimore/Washington this week for $74, almost double the introductory Southwest rate. One-way fares to Baltimore/Washington can run as high as $223, but can dip to as low as $59 for a flight to Reagan National in Washington, D.C.
Allegheny County Airport Authority Executive Director Kent George said the new service not only will bring more competition to the Washington and Baltimore markets but also will open up more destinations to local travelers.
Baltimore/Washington serves as a mini-hub for Southwest.
"It's a further indication of Southwest's commitment to this area, with them putting more flights in here in direct response to the way the community has responded to them," he said.
With Southwest taking a third gate at the airport, Mr. George said he hopes it is an indication the airline has more expansion in mind. He said the authority has talked to Southwest about adding service to Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., and to West Coast markets such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.
The third gate "definitely gives us more room to grow," Ms. Eichinger said, adding Southwest can run about 10 flights a day from a gate. "There is a desire to add service to additional markets," she said.
She said Southwest added Baltimore/Washington because the market is "overpriced" from Pittsburgh and travelers have been asking for it.
Southwest not only is thriving in Pittsburgh; in August, for the first time, it flew more people nationwide than any other U.S. carrier.
Also yesterday, the authority announced that Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours will start nonstop service to Myrtle Beach, S.C., on March 7. It initially will offer one flight a day on Thursdays and Sundays. Fares will start at $99 one way. It will add a Saturday flight during summer.
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