Southwest to Start LAX – SFO

Southwest finally (re)started flights to San Francisco yesterday with Vegas, Chicago/Midway, and San Diego flights hitting the runway. But that was overshadowed by that they would enter the LAX-SFO market on November 4, pretty much the only major intra-California route they don’t serve today.

The big dog in this market continues to be United with 16 flights a day each way in the market, but American has 6 in the market and Alaska has a mere 2 as well. With those big guys ruling the roost, fares remained relatively high in the market and local passengers fled to Southwest to fly to Oakland or San Jose instead. In fact, Southwest drew so much traffic to Oakland that they fly LAX-OAK 20 times a day. (These new flights put them over 100 daily flights between the LA Basin and the SF Bay Area.)

Low cost carriers have always had an interest in taking on the big guys, but there has only been activity in this market recently. Frontier took a shot at it but failed quickly and they pulled out earlier this summer. Now, Virgin America thinks they can be the first to make it work since the days of PSA and AirCal with their 6 daily flights. Southwest has opted to one-up that attempt with 8 runs a day.

According to a Southwest today, they think their low fares are going to be the catalyst for the market to work. Had they said that a couple months ago, I might have believed it, but now Virgin America has fares down at the bottom end of the spectrum already. It’s going to be a bloodbath as these guys fight it out. Could we see the return of $19 fares? One can only hope.

But low fares aren’t everything. In a market like this, schedule is of number one importance to the customers who are going to make or break this service – the business travelers. Let’s take a look at the schedules:

As you can see, Virgin America has some mighty big holes in their schedule. You can forget about mid-morning travel, and with the last flight at 625p, you can’t even do an early dinner. Meanwhile, Southwest has a flight near 8p and they never go more than 2 hours without having a flight. That’s a much better schedule and should be more attractive to the business traveler.

You can argue that Virgin America will have better service, live tv, and all that stuff if you’d like. But on a sub-1 hour flight, nobody cares. Just get me there when I need to be there. So far, Southwest appears to have the edge in this race.

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