Southwest to Cut 190 Flights in Winter Schedule

Until recently, Southwest aimed to expand 8 percent to 10 percent a year. But it has slowed its growth rate to only 4 percent in 2008 and has said it may not expand at all in 2009.


Aug. 26 — Southwest Airlines Co. will cut nearly 200 flights throughout its system and add only six as it implements its winter schedule Jan. 11.

The net decrease of 190 flights represents about 5 percent to 6 percent of Southwest's daily schedule of nearly 3,400 flights.

A spokeswoman said Monday that the changes reflect Southwest's plan to rein in its capacity, a strategy outlined earlier this year by chairman and chief executive Gary Kelly. Some flights will be added back in March, she said.

Spokeswoman Brandy King said the reductions will let the airline have more aircraft available to cope with the uncertainties of winter storms.

"The changes we are implementing are wide-ranging but relatively minor in magnitude. They are in part necessitated by holding the fleet count steady as we enter the first part of 2009, with the one-two punch of nasty winter weather and low traffic," Ms. King said.

"That being said, we have mentioned that we will be taking steps in 2009 to adjust our capacity growth rate in response to a slowing US economy and added fuel cost pressures," she said.

In all, the airline's new schedule will eliminate 196 flights systemwide and add only six — round trips between Phoenix and Burbank, Calif.; Baltimore and Orlando, Fla.; and Las Vegas and Orange County, Calif.

Dallas' losses

Dallas Love Field will lose three round trips, or six flights, to Houston Hobby, San Antonio and Albuquerque, N.M.

The Dallas-based carrier will eliminate nonstop service on three routes: Phoenix and Birmingham, Ala.; Nashville, Tenn. and Oakland, Calif.; and Nashville and Seattle.

On other routes, the carrier retained nonstop service but cut the frequency.

On Dallas-Houston, for example, Southwest will have 29 round trips a day rather than 30. Dallas-San Antonio will drop from 15 round trips to 14, and Dallas-Albuquerque will drop from nine round trips a day to eight.

Chicago Midway will face the biggest cuts, losing a net of 22 departures to 20 cities, followed by Baltimore with a net loss of 13 departures. Las Vegas loses 12 departures, and Phoenix and Nashville will each drop 10 departures.

Ms. King said Southwest will monitor the marketplace to determine which flights should be added back as the airline heads into spring, when traffic traditionally begins to increase.

Until recently, Southwest aimed to expand 8 percent to 10 percent a year. But it has slowed its growth rate to only 4 percent in 2008 and has said it may not expand at all in 2009.

"The more the time goes by, the more concern we get about our overall economy in 2009, and certainly that's weighing very heavily on our views about growing capacity next year," Mr. Kelly told industry analysts when Southwest announced its second-quarter earnings July 24. "But right now, we're not real bullish about adding flights at all vs. where we are operating today."

Other plans

Most major US airlines are reducing their capacity after Labor Day by parking airplanes and reducing jobs as they try to compensate for jet fuel prices that are much higher than a year earlier.

A recent estimate by the Air Transport Association is that the fuel bill for U.S. airlines is likely to jump more than $20 billion above 2007's $41 billion.

The nation's largest airline, Fort Worth-based American Airlines Inc., has said it plans to fly about 8 percent less capacity in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared with a year earlier, including an 11 percent to 12 percent reduction in domestic flying.

No. 2 United Airlines Inc. plans even deeper cuts, 15.5 percent to 16.5 percent on its domestic routes.

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