Southwest cuts 2 routes, adds another in latest network tweak

Southwest Airlines is making some roadmap changes focused on California connectivity.

The Dallas-based airline over the weekend filed plans to scrap two domestic routes from Southern California early next year, as first seen in Cirium’s schedules and later confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.

Specifically, the airline is exiting two routes from John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County. The airline will discontinue SNA service to both Chicago’s Midway International Airport (MDW) and Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) on January 4, 2023.

While Salt Lake City loses one southwestern route to California, it’s picking up another as part of this latest network update.

Southwest will begin flights between SLC and Long Beach Airport (LGB) on January 5, 2023. The new Long Beach service will operate once a day until the end of the schedule.

ZACH GRIFF/THE DOTS GUY

Interestingly, Southwest’s adjustments in Orange County came just a few weeks after local aviation authorities announced the annual allocation of departure slots for the SNA airport.

Southwest was allocated 44 daily departures with an annual capacity allocation of 4,715,800 seats for 2023, according to the County of Orange Airport Division.

This represents a net decrease of 13 daily departures compared to the 2022 allocation, airport data shows. Southwest will have 57 daily departures and an annual seat capacity of 6,020,310 by 2022.

As such, it is possible that these two route restrictions are a result of the annual slot allocation process. In addition to the route restrictions, Southwest pulled capacity at John Wayne Airport by about 15% in this week’s schedule update, data from Cirium shows.

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Securing takeoff and landing rights in Orange County is notoriously competitive.

SNA is popular with both locals and visitors who prefer to avoid the much larger and busier Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

In addition, airlines like to use the airport’s catchment area, which is one of the most prosperous in the country. (American Airlines made headlines during the pandemic for launching a new transcontinental flight to New York, operated by its fanciest three-cabin jet.)

Southwest has historically been the largest airline in Orange County, with nearly twice as many flights as its next largest local competitor.

In 2019, Southwest scheduled nearly 30,000 flights to and from SNA, while the airport’s second-largest carrier, Alaska Airlines, scheduled just over 18,000 flights during the same 12-month period, Cirium’s schedules show.

Orange County authorities use slots to limit the amount of air traffic in the area. While there is no federally mandated slot program at SNA in the traditional sense (to control capacity), local officials restrict commercial passenger traffic for noise and other reasons.

For its part, Southwest said these changes are part of a broader strategy to remain competitive in the Los Angeles area, as stated in the statement below.

We’ve been the largest airline to/from/within California for more than two decades, and while each of the five airports we serve in the LA Basin is unique, many of our Southern California customers use more than just their “neighborhood airport” to access our flexibility and hospitality. Our schedule is a dynamic reflection of what our customers need from us and we seize opportunities to provide the most relevant service at each airport.

ZACH GRIFF/THE DOTS GUY

As for the new Long Beach-to-Salt Lake City connection, Southwest is poised to go head-to-head with Delta Air Lines, which operates a hub in Utah’s capital city.

Delta has traditionally served the route four times a day, and now Southwest will give the Atlanta-based airline a run for its money.

Of course, Delta can offer a slew of convenient one-stop routes to cities around the world from Salt Lake City, so it’ll be interesting to see how the new Southwest flight fares.

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