Lower fuel prices, reduced fares and systems to ease security screening have made air travel a more attractive alternative to driving on trips of less than 400 miles (640 kilometers), said Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s vice president of network and revenue management. The routes make up about half the airline’s flights, “much less than it used to be,” he said.
“Short-haul is more viable than in the past 15 years,” Watterson said in an interview Thursday in Houston. “There’s optimism those routes could start to return.”
Southwest has added shorter flights from Washington’s Ronald Reagan airport after securing coveted slots there, including service to Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. The carrier has reinstated other routes such as Dallas to Memphis, Tennessee, and Boise, Idaho, to Sacramento, California.
“We’ll see what those do, and will look for other opportunities depending on how customers respond,” Watterson said. “If they work we will add more.”
Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly estimated that there were 38 million fewer passengers on short-haul routes industrywide in 2013 than in 2000, “and that traffic has not recovered” fully.
Even so, “it does feel like we’re seeing some signs of life there,” he said.
(Mary Schlangenstein - Bloomberg Business)