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Can Southwest Succeed at LaGuardia?


Terry Maxon, writing for the Dallas Morning News' Airline Biz Blog, makes an interesting observation following Southwest's announcement of new routes to New York City's LaGuardia airport. "For our Dallas readers," he writes, "the first question they might ask about Southwest Airlines' service to New York LaGuardia would be: How long will it take me to get there and back?" The answer, he says, is "a long time."

All flights between LaGuardia and Dallas's Love Field airport take over six hours, with a few topping seven and one more than eight hours long. Comparatively, Maxon notes, American flies from LaGuardia to Dallas/Ft. Worth in three-and-a-half hours. Of course, the duration of Southwest's flights is due in part to the Wright Amendment, which prevents airlines from flying to all but six states from Love, but this also highlights a glaring weakness in Southwest's service from LaGuardia: There's only two nonstops, which means lots of connections, which means long flights.

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I decided take this experiment a step further and compare a random sampling of some of Southwest's other LaGuardia routes and prices with flights from other airlines. I used Southwest.com and our sister site TripAdvisor's flight search tool to find flight times and fares, so exact times may vary slightly by source, and of course fares can always change. All flights are from LaGuardia and depart July 8.

  • Detroit: Southwest's shortest flight is 3 hours, 35 minutes with a connection in Baltimore; Delta's shortest flight is 1 hour, 50 minutes nonstop. Southwest: $89; Delta: $110.
  • Ft. Lauderdale: Southwest's shortest flight (departing Saturdays only) is 4 hours, 30 minutes with a stop in Baltimore (its longest is a whopping 7 hours, 50 minutes!); JetBlue's shortest flight is 2 hours, 48 minutes nonstop (it's worth noting that most airlines' flights were closer to Southwest's duration than JetBlue's). Southwest: $79; JetBlue: $90.
  • St. Louis: Southwest's shortest flight: 3 hours, 55 minutes with a stop in Baltimore; American's shortest flight is 2 hours, 40 minutes nonstop. Southwest: $99; American: $120
  • Phoenix: Southwest's shortest flight is 6 hours, 25 minutes with a stop; Continental's shortest flight is 6 hours, 33 minutes with a stop in Columbus. Southwest: $149; Continental: $150.
  • Minneapolis: Southwest's shortest flight is 4 hours, 50 minutes with a stop in Chicago; Delta's shortest flight is 2 hours, 54 minutes nonstop (not surprisingly, as Minneapolis was a major city for Northwest). Southwest: $79; Delta: $710 (!)

Of course, this should surprise no one, least of all long-time Southwest passengers. Outside of bigger cities like Chicago and Baltimore, Southwest doesn't offer a lot of long-distance nonstop flights, opting instead for shorter flights between more destinations. And if people want to travel from coast to coast they can—and do—so long as they're willing to make a connection or two.

But LaGuardia, and New York generally, could be a different situation. Southwest will be competing head to head with every major airline in the industry, most of which offer a nonstop alternative on the routes Southwest serves. Clearly Southwest will try to undercut prices on those routes, but if it takes all day to get from Point A to Point B, will low prices be enough? Business travelers in particular like a quick flight, so my sense is Southwest will need to offer significantly lower fares to attract that clientele.

But leisure travelers will be faced with a difficult choice as well: With so many shorter options (including flights from JFK and Newark), and likely competitive pricing across the board, why choose Southwest?

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