Southwest Airlines unveiled yesterday the schedule and fares for its service to begin this spring in Philadelphia, a schedule that analysts said could lure some travelers who now drive to Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the airline's cheap fares.
The promotions and hoopla of a new hub opening might benefit BWI enough to balance it out, however.
"It's like a rising tide will lift all boats: The fact that [Southwest] is expanding more and becoming a larger airline will help BWI as much as the Philadelphia thing will hurt it," said David S. Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association in Washington.
The schedule announced yesterday begins May 9 and will include 14 nonstop flights daily to Las Vegas, Chicago, Phoenix, Providence, R.I., and Orlando and Tampa Bay, Fla. One-way fares will start at $29.
Jim Wimberly, Southwest's executive vice president and chief of operations, said the company doesn't expect any change in its Baltimore traffic as a result of its service out of Philadelphia. Plans for the expansion were announced in December.
"We certainly feel like there's sufficient traffic in both Baltimore and Philadelphia to sustain the type of operation we have," Wimberly said.
Southwest operates 161 flights a day from BWI, where it accounts for more than 40 percent of the airport's daily commercial flights. The airport is building a terminal for Southwest, scheduled to open next year, that includes new gates, counters and baggage-claim areas.
"Southwest has a very important presence at BWI, and they have signaled that they want to continue their expansion here," said Jonathan Dean, an airport spokesman. "BWI is their third-largest airport and their primary East Coast airport. They have clearly indicated that they will not cannibalize their operations here at BWI airport with any new service."
A parking lot survey conducted by BWI about a year ago found that about 14 percent of its passengers come from Pennsylvania, but most of those travelers are not from Philadelphia, Dean said. Many come from southern Pennsylvania and the Interstate 83 corridor, so the airport does not expect the Philadelphia opening to siphon off much of its business, he said.
David Swierenga, president of AeroEcon, an aviation consulting firm, and former chief economist for the Air Transport Association, said Southwest's service in Philadelphia is likely to have some impact on BWI.
Stempler of the Air Travelers Association thinks the growth of discount carriers, including United Airline's Ted and JetBlue, at Washington Dulles International Airport will have a greater impact on BWI than Southwest's foray into Philadelphia because more local travelers would use Dulles as an alternative airport.
Southwest's debut in Philadelphia comes with some perks for Baltimore, he said, including the airline's systemwide sale on advance-purchase fares through Aug. 7.
"That's going to benefit the folks using BWI," Stempler said. "I think there are a lot of positives here for BWI."
Tom Parsons, chief executive officer of Bestfares.com, a discount travel Web site, said the promotion of a new hub in Philadelphia might bring more traffic to Baltimore as travelers hear more about Southwest Airlines.
"It's not going to hurt Baltimore," Parsons said, "but the folks in Philadelphia will be dancing in the streets."