Travel economist says Southwest must lower prices to take flight in Richmond market

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–Southwest Airlines launched inaugural flights in three new cities on Monday, including a new nonstop service flight between Richmond and Orlando.

Southwest, which acquired AirTran in 2011, says the new routes complete a plan to bring Southwest Airline service to all domestic cities in the company’s network by the year’s end, as the integration of Southwest and AirTran approaches its final phases.

“If Virginia is for lovers, lover is for Richmond, Virginia,” exclaimed President, & CEO Gary Kelly in a press conference at Richmond International Airport on Monday morning.

The low-cost carrier says its arrival to Richmond will bring more choices and more competitive fares to the market.  The Richmond Chamber of Commerce has been fighting to get Southwest to Richmond for the past 15 years.

Kelly says the carrier had hoped to be in Richmond long before 2013, but says September 11th and high fuel prices set the airline back several years.

AirTran will continue service between Atlanta and Richmond, with four daily nonstop departures.  Southwest hopes for a full conversion in Richmond by the second half of 2014.

To celebrate the launch of the new service, Southwest of offering a sale on flights in the Richmond, Pensacola and Memphis markets for a limited time.

Richmond and Pensacola sale fares must be purchased by November 11th, 2013, for travel every day except Fridays and Sundays–January 6, 2014 through February 26th, 2014.  Richmond and Pensacola fares must also be purchased 21 days in advance.

A $99 one-way nonstop service is being offered between Richmond and Orlando for a limited time only and blackout dates apply.

The Richmond Chamber of Commerce hopes Southwest’s arrival will help keep fares in Richmond low throughout the year.  However, CBS 6 ran a price check comparing several different airline prices to Southwest.

For example, a round trip fare leaving Richmond on December 7th and returning on December 14th shows comparable prices for all the airlines.

  • U.S. Airways- $252.10
  • Delta Air Lines- $291.60
  • United- $300.09
  • Southwest- $258.00 (two cheapest one way tickets)

Travel economist George Hoffer says Southwest will have to lower its prices and expand its reach if the low-cost carrier hopes to be successful in Richmond.  He says the airline hasn’t had a big impact in Richmond since acquiring AirTran in 2011.

“This is much ado about nothing,” Hoffer says.  “AirTran- Southwest’s percentage of the Richmond market has continuously  shrunk.  It was down last month to 8%.”  Hoffer says the business travelers tend to stick with the major carriers for travel perks, including earned miles.

Hoffer believes Southwest could improve the market only if the airline lowers its prices and expands nonstop services to other major hubs in the Northwest, such as Denver, CO.

“Southwest has a tremendous opportunity here,” Hoffer says.

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