Today Southwest Airlines announced our intention to bid to begin service to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.
Yes. You read that correctly. Southwest plans to pursue a bid to start service to LaGuardia Airport. This isn’t just big news, it’s huge. GINORMOUS! I think h-e-double-hockey-sticks just froze over…and I am certain a number of my friends in this industry have yet to pick their jaws up off of the floor!
For those of you that aren’t familiar with LaGuardia Airport (LGA), it’s the most centrally located of New York City’s three major airports. Flying into or out of LGA is guaranteed to put you in a “New York state of mind,” from the views of the Manhattan skyline on your approach or departure right down to the airport’s name itself—Fiorello LaGuardia helped build the airport in the 1930’s while he was mayor of New York City. Located in the borough of Queens, right on the “scenic” waters of Flushing Bay and close to Shea Stadium, it’s the closest major airport to Manhattan. What Love Field is to Dallas, Hobby Airport is to Houston, and Midway Airport is to Chicago, LaGuardia Airport is to New York City.
In the category of SWA/LGA history, we’ve been asked for as long as I can remember (and I’ve been here 18 years) to add LGA as a destination, but until now it just wasn’t a realistic opportunity. As many of you know, LGA is one of only four airports in America that are slot controlled, meaning you literally have to have a slot (or legal authority) to schedule an arrival or a departure. These slots are specific down to the half-hour that an airline can schedule a landing or takeoff, and are very finite—only a certain amount are allowed in any thirty-minute period. And while you can buy, sell, and trade them, because of the airport’s popularity, LGA slots are in HUGE demand and are seldom available at any price. Further, because they don’t always come in arrival with departure combinations that would enable a Southwest-style operation, being able to secure arrival/departure slots that can be “stitched together” in such a way to enable us to begin enough service to make it economically viable for Southwest wasn’t realistic, let alone easy. We’ve known for years how huge the immediate New York City market was, but we didn’t have a realistic way to shoe-horn ourselves in.
You all remember our former codeshare partner, ATA Airlines, who ceased operations in April of this year. They provided service between LaGuardia and our major base at Chicago’s Midway airport (and, for a while, to Houston/Hobby). In the three-plus years we were codeshare partners we got a very good look at the potential of LGA’s connectivity to the Southwest network—but it was like Tantalus’ torture, forever hungry and thirsty but never able to eat or drink. With ATA’s partnership we were able to experience what a great fit LGA would be for Southwest from a revenue and traffic perspective but still weren’t able to serve it with our own People and aircraft. Even after ATA’s demise, we couldn’t immediately try to begin service to LGA (even though our aircraft are perfectly suited to serving LGA) because ATA’s LGA slots were tied up in their bankruptcy proceedings and didn’t immediately become available.
However, in the past month or so, a light was turned on at the end of our LaGuardia-less tunnel. The bankruptcy court in Indiana (where ATA was headquartered) published their procedures to bid on ATA’s remaining business, including their 14 LGA slots—which would equate to 7 daily arrivals and departures at LGA, and are in close enough time proximity to each other to not destroy Southwest’s efficiencies. What today’s announcement means is that we have formally made a bid—which, if approved by the court, will enable Southwest Airlines to be able to expand with our own Red Bellied Birds into a market that we first developed via our ATA codeshare.
Now, again, guys—this isn’t a done deal. At this point it’s only a bid that would allow us to assume ATA’s slots, so we’re not ready to talk about where we’ll fly and things like that. But Southwest service to New York’s LaGuardia Airport is now a definite possibility, so you can start spreading the news! Of course, we’ve got a lot to learn about how to schedule, and operate, within a slot-controlled environment—but those should be easy learning curves to climb.