Southwest Airlines, the carrier largely credited with making Baltimore-Washington International Airport one of the fastest-growing airports in the country, announced yesterday that it will expand for the fourth time in less than a year, adding service to Albany, N.Y.
The Dallas-based airline did not announce whether the new service will include flights between Albany and BWI, saying more detailed information will be released this month.
But since coming to BWI in 1993, Southwest Airlines has quickly built the airport into its primary East Coast hub. And each time the airline has added a new East Coast city to its schedule, there usually have been new flights to and from Baltimore.
A Southwest spokesman said "it would be a good guess" that the new service will include BWI.
"Every time we've added new cities in that part of the world -- Providence, Manchester, Islip, Raleigh-Durham, Hartford -- they've all pointed in one direction, and that's BWI," said Ed Stewart, director of public relations for the airline.
"Baltimore, obviously, is the linchpin for our service out there."
Southwest Airlines became BWI's largest customer last year, and now handles 95 flights a day there. The carrier has grown so fast that BWI Executive Director David L. Blackshear said he expects the airline to outgrow its terminal space soon -- even though the state dedicated an entire pier at BWI specifically for Southwest's use.
The BWI-Albany route already is served by US Airways, BWI's second-largest airline. The Arlington, Va.-based carrier flies the route with turboprop aircraft -- the DeHavilland Dash 8 -- and offers round-trip flights for about $191, with some restrictions.
Southwest flies only jets on all of its routes -- Boeing 737s -- and has consistently undercut its competitor's fares on each new route it flies.
The airline's flights to Hartford, Conn.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Long Island, N.Y., all of which were launched last year, offered round-trip travel from BWI for $130.
Stewart said details of Southwest's Albany service will be announced before the end of January, and that the start date for the new service will depend on Boeing Co.'s schedule for delivering new aircraft.
Southwest typically begins flying its new routes within four months of announcing them.