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THE POINT OF OUR ROUTE NETWORK

Bill
Employee
Employee
We've all probably heard the old truism, "in the South, it doesn't matter if you're going to heaven or hell, you're going to change planes in Atlanta."  That's a perfect definition of a hub-and-spoke airline's route network.  When it comes to route networks, there are two kinds of airlines–Southwest…and everybody else.  All of our competitors operate hub-and-spoke networks, meaning that they serve a very small number of airports where they offer a LOT of flights (those are the hubs), and a large number of airports at which they only provide flights to their hubs (the spokes).    If you live in one of those overpriced and overserved hub locations, you can probably fly nonstop almost anywhere you want to go (if you can afford it).  But while some lucky travelers get to fly nonstop, hub-and-spoke networks are built to maximize connecting traffic.  Most of these other airlines force 50 percent–and as many as 75 percent–of their passengers to change planes at their hubs.  Put differently, if your trip doesn't begin or end at the hub location–you're changing planes, pal.    Southwest's system isn't like that at all.   Our route network is point-to-point–we do our best to fly you from the point that you're at, to the point that you want to go, nonstop.  In fact, despite old impressions that we're an airline of "milk runs" with multiple stops or plane changes, nearly 80 percent of Southwest's Customers fly nonstop from their origin to their destination.  I'm not just talking about a quick trip from Dallas to Houston or Baltimore/Washington to Providence.  We can fly you nonstop from Chicago to Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood or Seattle.  Baltimore/Washington to San Diego or Las Vegas.  Philadelphia to Los Angeles or Oakland.    As with most everything we do at Southwest, we've designed our route network with you, our Customer, in mind.  We know people prefer nonstop service, so that's what we aim to provide, as much as possible.  We also want to give you the lowest possible fares–after all, we are THE low fare leader–and in order to do that, we need to get you where you want to go as efficiently as possible.  And by a large margin, the most cost-effective way to transport someone from point A to point B is to do it without stopping.  It makes perfect sense, really–it simply costs less to carry a Customer all the way from start to finish on one flight than it does to carry them on two.   We do, of course, publish connecting itineraries, as well as direct ones (that have an intermediate stop, but no change of planes).  By offering connecting and direct itineraries in our smaller markets, we can offer those Customers our legendary low fares and excellent Customer Service.    Chances are about five to one that your next Southwest trip will be on a nonstop flight.  And if you're on a direct flight or a connection, hey, look on the bright side.  You'll get at least TWO soft drinks, FOUR bags of peanuts….and the whole way, you'll get Positively Outrageous Service from the best Employees in the airline industry.  Ours.
34 Comments
Drew1
Not applicable
The route system may be point-to-point, but you have at least a handful of de facto hubs: MDW, PHX, LAS, BWI.
Bill
Employee
Employee
Yanqui, Well, you've certainly named our largest Stations (maybe add HOU and OAK to that list for good measure), but they're not hubs in the classic airline scheduling sense. Hubs are scheduled so a "wave" of 40 ot 50 airplanes arrive, sit on the ground for about the same amount of time to interchange passengers and luggage, then all leave at roughly the same time. An hour later, the process is repeated. We don't schedule that way--each nonstop flight in a market is timed for maximum desireability for the local market. Ideally, we like a nice, steady flow of flights arriving and departing, with minimal bunching. We don't specifically schedule to create connections--but because of the density of most of our markets, they generate based on pre-set parameters. So while we're big in a number of places at which we have a large number of departures (fun fact: Southwest has more airports at which we offer more than 100 daily departures than any other airline in the world!), they're not hubs in the classic airline scheduling sense. Why don't you use the word we use internally for them: "Mega" Stations. That ought to scare the competition....right? :) Bill
Drew1
Not applicable
Bill, I know your "Mega" stations aren't hubs in the traditional sense. My point is that to get from one of your smaller stations to the rest of the network almost always requires transit via one of those (what I am calling 🙂 ) de facto hubs. Simply clicking around the interactive route map for nonstop service out of cities like PIT, MHT, JAN, IAD, etc. shows this.
Chris3
Not applicable
This sounds like an interesting job. I like the term focus city. I live in Austin, and Southwest has the largest presence here of all the airlines. They offer 15 cities directly, and no other airline comes close. I would like to see more options for Pittsburgh, but that should come in time. Living here, I have developed a fondness for "little" airports. AUS has 23 gates. It's just easier to get around, easier to get in and out of. Columbus, where I lived for six years, also has a great airport. I don't think you will find an easier-to-use airport for its size (56 gates). I have noticed that with Southwest, I may be changing in a small airport like El Paso. That's fine with me. I have also noticed that Southwest has no service at all from Austin to Denver or Omaha. I suppose we can thank the likes of Jim Wright and Kay Bailey Hutchison for that. It seems like the whole hub-and-spoke system was just a fad that came in the late 1970's. Federal Express had actually started it, and it works very well for what they do. But that's not the same business. Here's an interesting article originally from the _Wall Street Journal_, "How a City Can Win by Losing its Airport Hub Status": http://classwork.busadm.mu.edu/Economics%20Newspaper%20Articles/Microeconomics/Price%20Searching%20Markets/2004/2004%2004%2028%20How%20a%20city%20can%20win%20by%20losing%20its%20airport%20hub%20status.PDF
David_Ross2
Not applicable
I've taken the liberty of posting the blog at forum on FlightAware (http://discussions.flightaware.com/viewtopic.php?p=12811#12811 is the URL for the posting). I have talked (typed?) myself blue trying to convince people there and on other forums that Southwest doesn't do hubs. Bill, you have the job I would love to have. I am fascinated by the scheduling process of airlines. I've studied everything I can get my hands on about scheduling. I have also been collecting airline timetables for over 35 years now. Sadly, it's nearly impossible to get any current ones in the printed format I also have several OAGs (Official Airline Guides) from the 40's and 50's that are absolutely fascinating to read. I have also made up airline schedules for my own airlines - now if only I could get a few million dollars to start 'em up!
Bill
Employee
Employee
David, Thanks for the promotion! And, yes, I fully appreciate how lucky I am to have such an interesting job--one that by its definition is tailor-made for a self-admitted "airline geek"--not to mention that I'm part of one of the most wonderful firms to work for on the entire planet. And as for getting a few million to start your own airline--two thoughts. First, Southwest and our LCC brethren are an increasingly difficult genre to steer clear of, competitively. And second--do you know how to make a small fortune in the industry? Start with a large one! 🙂 (Unless your names are Rollin King and Herbert D. Kelleher, of course!).
David_Ross2
Not applicable
Bill: "Do you know how to make a small fortune in the industry? Start with a large one!" is the mantra of the airline industry - unless, of course, you have the codes SWA or WN attached to your flight numbers. My airline would have ultra-luxury service - only chocolate covered peanuts would be served -and wouldn't compete with other airlines because I'd be flying from what are now general aviation airports.
joe-mdw-plane-d
Not applicable
Bill, thanks for adding four non stops from dtw to bwi. How about a few more to phx? 😉
Virgil
Not applicable
Is there a particular rational Southwest uses when it decides not to connect existing Southwest cities that do not have service yet are in the 300 to 500 mile stage length range from one another? In most cases the hub alternatives, such as Altanta, have gotten very pricy in the last few months. One suck missing link in particular is JAN to BNA. I am sure there are others but that one comes to mind.
Matt_C_
Not applicable
Great. So when are you coming to Memphis. Seriously, when are you coming to Memphis. MC
joe-mdw-plane-d
Not applicable
Virgil and Matt C., More than anything else, I think a shortage of aircraft is partially responsible for a lack of connections. They can't get enough Boeings and I have heard they are looking for some used 700's. 😜
Scott5
Not applicable
What's the reason why Little Rock to Nashville isn't served? Is there not enough interest in serving this route. Provided this route could solve some of the WA problems with the Eastern part of the country. Your thoughts?
Scott5
Not applicable
For the Penscola-Tallahassee-Mobile area of the country, would Dothan be a good place to serve this area of the country?
joe-mdw-plane-d
Not applicable
Scott, they already do fly to Dothan. Just not with passengers. 😉 It is for maint.
Roger2
Not applicable
Bill, We would like to see a couple of earlier flights from BWI to Boise. For some reason all of the flights are now arriving in Boise in the late afternoon. We would like to get to Boise much earlier in the day, so that we can get to our final distination at a reasonable hour. We still have another three hours to drive after arriving. If we need to transfer somewhere, that is fine, as long as we arrive earlier in the day. Thanks Roger G.
Reid1
Not applicable
I wouldn't quite say that *NONE* of your competitors operate a point-to-point flight system. JetBlue is the first example that comes to mind. In fact, as they expand their short-haul flights their route system is beginning to look more and more like yours! But Southwest is probably the farthest away from your traditional "hub and spoke" system of any major airline.
Reid1
Not applicable
Do you have any plans to compete with other low cost carriers on the same routes? I know there are many airports you serve that are also served by other low fare carriers, but I can't think of any scenarios where you directly compete with a low fare carrier for the same exact route. Am I wrong? Will this change or would such direct competition be unprofitable for all competing parties?
kdelevett
Employee
Employee
bill~ enjoyed reading your posting. kudos for southwest that we don't charge for our peanuts, non-alcoholic drinks, snackpacks, pillows, and blankets 😉
Marshall_Bento
Not applicable
Southwest is the best!
Todd_B
Not applicable
In my mind, a better term to describe Southwest's cities where a change of planes occurs in the process of taking Customers from point A to point B is "incidental hub," which is not the same as a "de facto hub" and totally unlike a "deliberate hub" ala the high-cost inefficient monstrosities that the U.S. legacy airlines insist on maintaining. Southwest's "incidental hubs" are a logical by-product of high volumes of departures and arrivals that naturally create connecting possibilities -- none of the waste and inefficiencies of the "deliberate hubs" of the legacies that clog airport facilities for a few hours each day while the same facilities and staff sit idle for a roughly equal, sometimes greater, amount of time. Southwest keeps their planes in the air, where the money is made, with the focus on efficient aircraft utilization achieved by short turnaround times; when connecting flight opportunities happen as a result of frequent arrivals and departures at cities such as MDW and PHX ...why not? "Deliberate hubs," by contrast, hold aircraft and staffing efficiencies hostage to the almighty scheduling of connecting "banks" of flights and "de facto hub" is a term too close to "deliberate hub" to describe Southwest's altogether efficient "incidental hubs" which are a universe apart from "deliberate hubs."
Will_French
Not applicable
For some time, I have been hoping Southwest would restore their BHM-MSY nonstops which were discontinued after Hurricane Katrina. I now have to drive when I make this trip, where in the past I would have flown on Southwest. I have posted a request elsewhere on this blog, and I wrote two letters to Southwest Customer Service. The response I got back from Customer Service, when I wrote, was that Southwest had not restored those nonstop flights because there was not enough demand locally in BHM, and BHM has very little connecting traffic. Note that both BNA and BWI (Southwest quasi-hubs) have had nonstops to MSY restored. Prior to Katrina, there were more MSY nonstops from BHM than from either BWI or BNA. Now there are none from BHM, but a couple from the quasi-hubs. Hmmmm . . . I wonder how Katrina caused BHM-MSY travel demand to fall so much more than BWI-MSY or BNA-MSY demand? Could there be some hub-like thinking in this officially non-hub airline?
Andres_Wang
Not applicable
We are interested in finding out if SWA has any plan to fly into/out of PSP. Having a large population of retired folks and ever growing, we've been waiting for the last 4 years to see if SWA would serve this city. Would love to see that before we get too old to fly! (Been flying with SWA for 16 years and love its unique service: keep up the good work!)
Bob6
Not applicable
Hopefully, ExpressJet, a new spinoff from Continental, will offer the direct flights from Bham to NOLA that Southwest no longer provides. I am surprised to see Southwest surrender an obvious niche market. Southwest has really disappointed me with their new "hub thinking".
Shari
Not applicable
Generally I like your route system, and I don't mind when I do have to make a connection at a mid-point airport because you do it very efficiently. But I would like to see service to other locations, in particular Atlanta, which you noted is somebody else's major hub. Any chance we might see you adding some flights in/out of ATL, and if so, in what timeframe?
David_Colbert
Not applicable
I would love to see Atlanta added as one of the cities that Southwest serves in the current route system. Understanding the cost associated with competing at ATL; I think it would be shrewd to enter the city at an alternative airport that is closer to downtown and the high business areas in the north, like Charlie Brown. Assuming it could be done from a regulatory standpoint, it would be awesome to have a low cost carrier that serves the western routes and is easier to get to without fighting through the traffic to Hartsfield-Jackson.
Pilar_Tovar
Not applicable
I am working on SouthWest case for Business school, and we need to find some specific information about the Operations Management at the Baltimore Airport. It seems that in 2001 the BWI airport was overwhelmed w/ flights, baggage was always delayed, it seemed that the BWI station was not staffed properly for the amount of flights and connections there. Has Southwest improved their operations at that Airport? if so, how? by spreading out traffic to other East coast airports? hiring more people? access to more gates? improving the turnaround time since then ? Any information will be helpful, could not find anything on your official website. Thank you!!!
brewer
Not applicable
why don't you post telephone numbers with your e-mail. i have tried all night to cancel reservations and i cannot find a number
pcerda
Not applicable
Brewer, The number for Reservations is 1-800-IFLYSWA a.k.a 1-800-435-9792. Jedi Blog Master
Dan_Delaney
Not applicable
OK, about all of this hubs and spokes and all.. How about this type of question on something like poor scheduling and just about nada non-stops from ELP to anywhere east of the Mississippi. Just moved to Las Cruces and travel often back east. El Paso is about the worst departure city for long distance travel that I have ever experienced, regardless of airline. ELP is not even like a spoke, it is more like the broken branch of a small tree, or the air filler point on a tire where you have to get to the rim before you can even think of getting to a destination from a spoke. I am hearing that there are a few explanations for this and I was wondering if folks at Southwest could confirm, or not even want to attempt to answer. 1. El Paso has not yet been defined as an important start/destination. 2. The landing fees and dock fees at El Paso are just about the highest of airport in North America. 3. The Wright Amendment repeal and resulting changes have not been adequately addressed. I believe that the answer is probably a little of each. I do know that not everyone flying out of El Paso wants to stop at some other place in Texas. Why no nonstops from El Paso to PVD or MHT? Those two airports are probably in the top 10% at Southwest. 'You need more gates at PVD', yeah and the runways could be another 1000 feet longer. But that is sea level and your newer 737 can get off the ground and exceed FAA distance and emergency fuel regulations easily...So what is the reason for the lack of nonstops to those airports? I'd bet 2 full planes 5 days a week would make that a very viable root. Ok, so its probably an El Paso, Houston, Dallas thing...too bad. We have a great airport here in Las Cruces, LRU. It is underutilized and should be considered by Southwest as a future,'mini-hub' dedicated to nonstops to east and west coast cities. There is plenty of space for growth there and with the future spaceport 45 minutes north it is bound to be an area of tremendous growth and potential. What do you think? thanks, Dan Delaney
Nicci
Not applicable
Just curious if Southwest will ever fly directly into PSP from OAK, SFO or Sacramento.. Thanks!
David_Ross3
Not applicable
Bil, At FlightAware, as I mentioned earlier, I've been holding a discussion with others that insist Southwest is not a point-to-point airline but rather a hub-and-spoke one. Even though I mentioned this blog entry and the fact that you are the lead schedule planner and should know what type of airline you plan schedules for, they still refuse to believe me. (latest topic is at http://discussions.flightaware.com/viewtopic.php?t=5293). Some went as far as to call reservations to see what they said. The reservations person said it was a hub airline. Someone also said that he talked to a "manager in operations" who said that same thing. I told them, in not so many words, that basically the people they talked to were speaking to people who were not familiar with the airline industry and thus used simple terms. Obviously, these people do not know anything about Southwest, even after reading your explanation. Is there someway I could get a written confirmation (email would be fine) stating that Southwest is one of the few major airlines, if not the only airline, in the world that is not a hub-and-spoke? I have been an airline enthusiast for nearly 40 years and can recognize when an airline is a hub-and-spoke or a point-to-point airline with lots of connecting opportunities throughout its system. Southwest is the latter, not the former. Thanks for any assistance you can provide. David (damiross@gmail.com or damiross3@comcast.net)
Bill
Employee
Employee
David, two facts immediately come to mind that prove we're not hub-and-spoke. One is already in the blog piece itself--nearly 80% of all of our Customers fly from origin to destination nonstop. None of the legacy carriers come anywhere near that--most are AT BEST 50% local (non-connecting). (Note--I'd look up the actual stats by hub, by airline, but I can't find them right off and don't have time to hunt right now). But if you want further proof, just look at the actual plot of arrivals and departures of legacy carriers at their hubs, vs. the way Southwest arrivals and departures work at our large Stations. Other airlines actively bank their schedules--meaning a large number of flights (sometimes more than 60 within a 20-minute period) arrive in very close proxmity, sit on the ground while their passengers change planes, then all leave pretty much at once. Next time you're in PHL see if you can spot the USAirways banks.....I sure can! Southwest doesn't do that. We put flights at the times we think the Customers want to fly--sit on the ground for 20 to 30 minutes--then leave to the next destination. Yes, we do publish connections, but we don't SCHEDULE to MAXIMIZE them....that is what hub carriers do. Another, more kindergarden, view of it is to just draw out a Southwest route map. Then look at another airline's route map (Continental has a good one at Continental.com). The difference is immediate: ours looks like most of the dots are connected to most of the other dots with nonstop flights. Continental's map clearly, obviously, and emphatically shows its three hubs--IAH, CLE, and EWR. And I just may get involved in the debate at FlyerTalk.....but not until I get home tonight. Got all kind of interesting things to do here today! :) Bill
Steven_Holty
Not applicable
Bill, because you are not a hub & spoke airline, how do you plan & schedule maintenance? I imagine each airport has the minimum required mechanics with the skills to do most of the work. But hub-and-spoke airlines put the majority of their specialists in the their Hubs, and they route airplanes to the Hubs to blitz the majority of work done all at one. My chemical company is looking to benchmark with the airlines to become more efficient at planning and scheduling reactors. Any information you can give will be benneficial. Thank you, Steven
Bill
Employee
Employee
Steven, Even though we're not hub-and-spoke, we, too put the majority of our Maintenance resources in what we call our "mega Stations" (i.e., the biggest ones). We do our heavy maintenance--and have hangars--in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and now Chicago Midway. However, we also have Southwest Maintenance Employees in a number of other large and medium size cities to do the overnight checks and just be there to fix minor mechanical issues. Those are located in Baltimore, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Oakland, Orlando, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, St. Louis, and Tampa. Overnight checks are pretty easy to route aicraft into, because (1) we don't do any overnight flying, (2) the cities listed above combined have about 50% of our aircraft overnighting there (260 total out of a total flying fleet of 500 aircraft), and the overnight "A" checks only have to be done once each 7 days. The more involved "B/C" checks take longer, and we have to build special routings into the schedule to allow Maintenance Control to easily get aircraft into those checks as needed, which is about once every 3 to 4 months. Thanks for the question!