What will Southwest Airlines' presence at CVG mean for travelers and competition?

Ultimate Air: 'We welcome Southwest'
Will Southwest's impact be all positive?
Posted at 12:09 PM, Jan 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-07 10:05:44-05

HEBRON, Ky. -- Southwest Airlines has released departure times for its new barrage of flights at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, and officials there say they're working closely with the carrier to shore up details in time for its launch this summer.

The airline, considered the granddaddy of low-cost carriers, made a big splash Wednesday when it announced plans to serve CVG with eight daily flights in 2017, a big boon for the airport and leisure and business travelers alike. Officials said Southwest will likely launch from two gates in Concourse A -- the same hall used by Allegiant, American, United and Frontier airlines -- when service starts June 4.

Bookings for the new flights -- five daily to Chicago-Midway and three to Baltimore/Washington International -- opened Thursday. Fares were as low as $49 each way.

Ultimate: "We welcome Southwest"

Southwest is CVG's first major carrier addition since 2014, and news of its impending arrival, highly touted. But will its impact be all positive?

Ultimate Air Shuttle, a public charter popular among business and corporate clients, has offered the only direct ticket to Midway for years. It now flies solely via Lunken Airport on Cincinnati's east side, although it had offered that service from CVG up until May. 

Rick Pawlak, Ultimate's managing director, said didn't know about Southwest, both back in the spring and in November, when they announced a move to pull all remaining service from CVG to New York City/New Jersey, which went effective this week. It was more about providing a "streamlined experience" for their passengers, he said. 

Ultimate Air Shuttle moved its flights to Lunken Airport. One of its destinations is Chicago Midway, just like Southwest when it starts flying out of CVG this summer. (Provided)

Whether Southwest will impact its service -- Ultimate flies nine times a week to Midway -- "only time will tell," Pawlak said. Chicago is among Ultimate's most popular route.

"A few people have called me (on this). I told them, 'We welcome Southwest to Cincinnati,'" Pawlak said. "We're happy they're here. Cincinnati needs choices. To have a healthy and growing business community, you have to have a healthy aviation community as well."

More adverse? He thinks that's CVG's 21 daily departures to O'Hare, split between Delta, United and American.

"There's a bigger chance that might affect that route structure," Pawlak said, "because now you're adding five more round-trip flights a day to the Chicago market."

Wanna get away?

As promised, Southwest posted its new flight schedule from CVG Thursday morning. Bookings are available through Aug. 14. Times for daily departures to Baltimore are 10:35 a.m., 1:35 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., with "Wanna Get Away" fares ranging from $59-49 each way. Flights to Chicago-Midway are scheduled to leave at 6:40 a.m., 9 a.m., 12:35 p.m., 6:35 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. from CVG. The lowest fares were $49.

Those prices are valid through Jan. 26; both CVG and Southwest were hoping for strong support out of the gate. 

Southwest officials say they're "very pleased" with the interest they've been seeing so far. 

But the big looming question remains: will Southwest expand, and if so, when? Southwest is investing heavily throughout Florida -- the most popular destination for Cincinnati-area travelers. But the best opportunity may come from CVG's own list of missing markets, or markets where CVG "leaks" local fliers to other area airports, usually driven by high fares. Southwest will serve at least one of those right off the bat. 

"Midway was definitely one of our targets. And has been," said Adam Kressler, air service development director at CVG. "There's a few more we'll be pushing for."

Domestically, that includes Long Beach, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, San Diego and Orange County-John Wayne, as well as Dallas and Houston. Southwest is headquartered in Dallas and has a presence in all the airports above. Many are cities were Southwest is growing.

Southwest started service in Long Beach in June. Oakland -- Southwest's largest base in California -- is getting a new city pair this summer in Newark. The airline this week also announced five new routes from San Diego, including new nonstop service to Indianapolis starting June 4.

Until then, officials have plenty to tout. "By sending folks through Chicago, they'll have an opportunity to connect to more than 250 daily flights. Baltimore has over 220 daily flights," said Dan Landson, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines. 

There's an international piece as well. Want to get to Punta Cana? You can connect with one-stop either through Baltimore or Chicago-Midway. The lowest fares in June range from $233 to $535 one way. Baltimore, overall, links to 13 international destinations, including London, Punta Cana, San Jose, Costa Rica and Toronto. Midway offers 11 daily nonstop international departures.

"The fact that they're connecting into Midway, that gives us (access to) all the West Coast and Pacific Northwest, and then Baltimore connects into a lot of their international service," Kressler. "They're good starting points."