Southwest flying to LaGuardia

The Baltimore Sun

Southwest Airlines announced Tuesday that it will start daily service to New York's LaGuardia Airport from BWI and Chicago's Midway Airport this summer.

It is the first time that Southwest has offered its own service into New York City. Three daily nonstop flights from Baltimore will be available beginning June 28. Southwest is the largest carrier at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

LaGuardia ranks near the bottom for on-time arrivals and departures, according to Department of Transportation statistics. An airline quality study released this week rated Southwest as one of the top three airlines in on-time performance.

Southwest is aware of the potential for delays in the congested New York area and is planning carefully to prevent any widespread effects, said Whitney Eichinger, a spokeswoman for the airline.

"It won't affect our entire system down the line," Eichinger said. "We're looking to avoid that by scheduling and being careful about flight times and connection times."

The new routes are the result of Southwest's winning $7.5 million bid for takeoff and landing slots once held by ATA Airlines, which went bankrupt about a year ago and ultimately ceased operations.

Southwest is using the openings to expand its reach into the heavily traveled business routes from New York to Baltimore/Washington and Chicago, where it will offer five nonstop flights.

"It's obviously an important destination for business travelers," said BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean, noting that BWI Marshall passenger traffic is split between leisure and business travelers. Southwest's new route could appeal to both groups "if the price is right," Dean said.

Tickets, which went on sale Tuesday, will start at $49 one-way from Baltimore and $89 one-way from Chicago, with a 14-day advance purchase, said Bob Jordan, an airline executive vice president. Fares on Friday and Sunday may be higher.

Southwest currently flies into the New York area, to the Islip MacArthur Airport on Long Island. The airline will continue to fly there, Jordan said.

In the Baltimore/Washington region, Southwest will have to compete with Amtrak in addition to other airlines. Fliers to LaGuardia will still need to take a $15 to $25 cab ride from the airport into the city, whereas travelers on Amtrak's Acela are dropped off directly at Penn Station in midtown. A business-class fare on the Acela is about $254 round-trip. However, the train takes just under three hours, while a flight into New York from BWI is about half that.

The entrance into LaGuardia extends Southwest's efforts to get into bigger airports in major cities.

The Chicago Tribune contributed to this article.

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