Southwest Airlines has recently expanded its hubs both through renovations and planned new routes despite the coronavirus pandemic. Beginning in late 2020, Southwest will begin seasonal service from Denver (DEN) and Dallas Love Field (DAL) to Steamboat Springs, Colorado (HDN). While less well-known than other ski towns like Breckenridge or Vail, Steamboat Springs boasts the fifth largest winter sports area in Colorado spread across six peaks. In addition, the town is also known for its eponymous hot springs and traditional Wild West downtown along the Yampa River. Southwest's commercial chief Andrew Watterson justified the expansion by saying customers wish to visit destinations where they can socially distance such as the mountains and the beach. However, he conceded that the pandemic has left the future of Southwest's flights to winter destinations uncertain. Southwest also told Denver-area 9 News that it will be forced to lay off many of its workers if bookings do not "triple" in the near future, likely a more significant factor. Steamboat Springs will be Southwest's first seasonal route, where the airline must compete with most major American carriers including Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United. In particular, Southwest will become the second carrier after United to fly from Denver to Steamboat Springs, introducing competition. The scheduling of the flights is yet to be determined, though they have announced there will be 3 daily on weekends only.
Though there are significantly less flights, CEO Gary Kelly (who boasted in July of his airline's preparedness for a "prolonged war against this pandemic") believes it is of utmost importance to "maintain the integrity" of their routes. As a result, Southwest has decided to build 16 new gates at Denver Airport by 2022 and recently inaugurated a concourse extension at Portland International Airport (PDX).
Southwest is no stranger to times where air travel is unpopular. Even in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, when many airlines curtailed service, Southwest began its first flights to Norfolk, Virginia just a few weeks later. Watterton considers the pandemic a no different crisis, and has extended the airline's full schedule of new routes to April 2021.
Appendix: Southwest's Proposed New Routes
Number of daily flights and times of the routes have not all been announced yet. DAL/DEN - HDN not included.
|Origin||Destination||Proposed Start Date|
|Atlanta (ATL)||Louisville (SDF)||Dec 17|
|ATL||Oklahoma City (OKC)||Dec 17|
|ATL||Omaha / Eppley Airfield (OMA)||Dec 17|
|Austin (AUS)||Long Beach, California (LGB)||Nov 1|
|Denver (DEN)||Birmingham, Alabama (BHM)||Dec 17|
|DEN||Little Rock (LIT)||Dec 17|
|DEN||Wichita (ICT)||Dec 17|
|Houston-Hobby (HOU)||Ontario, California (ONT)||Nov 1|
|Nashville (BNA)||Orange County, California / John Wayne Airport (SNA)||Nov 2|
|Phoenix (PHX)||LGB||Nov 1|
|PHX||Memphis (MEM)||Dec 17|
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