With price cuts and perks, US Airways and Southwest do battle over Boston

US Airways announced it will speed up check-in at Philadelphia International for Boston-bound fliers, a response to Southwest's introduction of Boston flights.
US Airways announced it will speed up check-in at Philadelphia International for Boston-bound fliers, a response to Southwest's introduction of Boston flights.
Posted: August 06, 2010

If it's business, Flyers vs. Bruins, or your mother-in-law's birthday, and you live in the Philadelphia region, you have little excuse for not getting to Boston.

Rivals US Airways Group Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. are competing mightily to fly you there, and to do so easily and cheaply - for as little as $49 in some cases.

To attract business and frequent fliers and keep them happy, US Airways announced Thursday that it will provide a curbside baggage drop-off, speedy ticket check-in, and an elite airport security screening line for customers on its 16 daily round-trip flights between Philadelphia and Boston, starting Aug. 16.

Philadelphia's largest airline billed the service as a perk, but it's actually a move against Southwest, which began Philadelphia-to-Boston service on June 27.

Southwest, the nation's largest discount carrier and Philadelphia's second-busiest airline, plans to add three additional daily nonstops to Boston from Philadelphia, for a total of eight, on Aug. 15.

US Airways responded with airport conveniences, targeting its best-paying customers.

"This is another perk for those elite and business travelers who already fly us because they like the first-class upgrades and the Dividend Miles accrual," said US Airways spokesman Morgan Durrant, referring to the airline's frequent-flier rewards program.

While aimed at business commuters, anyone on US Airways' Philadelphia-Boston flights can use the curbside bag drop, special ticket check-in, and speedier security checkpoint lane normally reserved for first-class passengers at both Philadelphia International and Boston Logan airports.

The "FastPath" perk is designed to make the airport experience smoother for "our valued frequent customers" and to make "getting from the curb to the plane to the curb faster and easier," said US Airways senior vice president Suzanne Boda.

Southwest spokesman Paul Flaningan said customer response to its daily nonstop flights to Boston has been "going very well. It's meeting, and in many cases beating, our expectations. We have great facilities in Boston to match our equally great facilities in Philadelphia" in Terminal E Concourse.

US Airways says it hasn't lost passengers or reduced its flight schedule since Southwest began flying the Philadelphia-Boston route.

But Southwest's entry in the Philadelphia-Boston rush is recent. "We don't have any long-term data" regarding the competition with Southwest, Durrant said. "Anecdotally, at least in the short term, we haven't seen a shift."

Passengers on US Airways planes between Philadelphia and Boston are mostly business travelers.

"We just don't get a lot of people in Philadelphia going on vacation to Boston on those flights," Durrant said. "The majority on that particular city pair are traveling for business."

As a convenience to passengers in Philadelphia, US Airways plans to consolidate its Boston departure gates to the C Concourse - Gates C-17, C-18, and C-19. Currently, Boston flights leave from various gates in B and C Concourses, Durrant said.

For consumers, the advantage of competition between the two cities has been plummeting fares.

When US Airways had a monopoly on the route that is 280 air miles, fares were as high as $550 one-way for a nonstop coach seat.

Now, US Airways matches Southwest's fares, and ticket prices can be as low as $49 one-way, if purchased in advance for future travel on the airlines' websites.

Contact staff writer Linda Loyd

at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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