Continental cuts fares on some flights from BWI Southwest's entry prompts action


Southwest Airlines' expansion into Baltimore-Washington International Airport has resulted in the first round of price-slashing even before the formal announcement of its plans.

Southwest, a low-cost carrier known for its superior on-time performance record, was poised to unveil its expansion plans at a news conference at the airport today.

Airline industry officials said last week that the Dallas-based airline would begin offering daily flights from BWI to Cleveland and Chicago's Midway Airport later this year.

But late yesterday, Continental Airlines, in an apparent move to pre-empt today's announcement, slashed its "walk-up" fares from BWI to Chicago and Cleveland. Continental cut its one-way fare to Cleveland by 83 percent -- to $59 from $349. It reduced its one-way Chicago fare by almost half -- to $109 from $209.

Continental said the new fares have no advance purchase or stay requirements and are fully refundable. A long-time competitor of Southwest, Houston-based Continental said the new fares would be "generously available" on all flights although they are subject to capacity limits.

Continental also said it was offering a free companion ticket on round-trip tickets reserved at least one day in advance. An overnight stay is required.

Southwest Chairman Herbert D. Kelleher is scheduled to attend a mid-morning news conference together with Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer and O. James Lighthizer, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Yesterday, Michael Boyd, president of Aviation Systems Research Corp. of Golden, Colo., said St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio, were other potential Southwest destinations from BWI.

The airline typically enters a market with five or six flights a day to each destination.

Before Continental's announcement, Mr. Boyd said the entry of Southwest was expected to bring a cut in fares from BWI to Chicago and other cities. Other airlines, notably American and United, will be forced to slash their fares to Southwest's destination cities, he said.

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