Southwest ending year-round nonstop Fla. service from Phila.

A worker prepares an item for Amazon Prime delivery at the distribution center in Phoenix. The fee was $79 before the move.
A worker prepares an item for Amazon Prime delivery at the distribution center in Phoenix. The fee was $79 before the move. (REUTERS, file)
Posted: March 15, 2014

Scrappy Southwest Airlines, which came to Philadelphia with a splash but which has retreated as rival US Airways proved a tough competitor, is ending its year-round nonstop flights to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from Philadelphia.

Southwest will curtail nonstop service in the off-season to West Palm Beach and Fort Myers, Fla., the airline confirmed.

James Tyrrell, Philadelphia International Airport deputy director of property and business, said Thursday he got the news from Southwest the day before the latest schedule came out.

"They called me to say they were discontinuing the Fort Lauderdale flight, and they weren't sure whether they would be bringing it back, as they do other Florida routes that are seasonal," Tyrrell said.

"They did not mention West Palm, but Fort Myers has always been a seasonal route for them," he noted. "They typically bring it back."

After April 7, according to the airline's website, nonstop flights to West Palm Beach from Philadelphia will end.

Aug. 9 will be the last day for nonstop service from Philadelphia to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers.

Passengers will still be able to get to those cities on Southwest, with a stop and a plane change in another city, such as Atlanta, Chicago, or St. Louis.

Dallas-based Southwest - which arrived in Philadelphia to great fanfare in 2004, when US Airways was in bankruptcy and faced an uncertain future - has shrunk from a peak of 71 daily nonstops to 20 cities from Philadelphia to 34 weekday flight departures to 11 cities - Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway, Atlanta, St. Louis, Nashville, Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and, seasonally, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers.

"In the early autumn, through Halloween (which is as far out as we've published), we'll be at 25 weekday departures," said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins.

Southwest's flight schedule runs through Oct. 31.

"Many of the markets we serve in Florida are operated on a seasonal basis from Philadelphia," said Southwest spokesman Dan Landson. "When a new schedule is released, there are always some added flights and other flights that are subtracted, and that's because we operate with a demand-based product."

If Florida flights are permanently cut, other airlines would likely pick up the slack. Frontier Airlines could add more flights from Trenton-Mercer Airport and New Castle Airport near Wilmington.

JetBlue Airways began flying to Boston in May from Philadelphia.

Scott Laurence, JetBlue vice president for network planning, said Thursday, "JetBlue remains interested in expansion at Philadelphia, and we are evaluating the potential for service to Florida and other destinations. While we're not currently ready to make any announcements, our focus is on profitable, sustainable growth, and Philadelphia has dynamics similar to other markets that are highly successful for JetBlue."

Said Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes: "If, indeed, Southwest is reducing its flights to Florida, it could bode well for Frontier at Trenton-Mercer. Trenton-Mercer's market strength continues to grow as people discover that this regional airport and Frontier Airlines are viable and cost-effective alternatives to Philadelphia."

Jeffrey Erlbaum, owner of ETA Travel in Conshohocken, said that if another carrier does not pick up the Florida routes, his clients might drive or take the train to Baltimore and fly from there.

"With Fort Myers, Tampa is an alternate," Erlbaum said. "But for West Palm, Fort Lauderdale was always an alternative."

Southwest has expanded in some cities, including Atlanta and Denver. In October, it plans to increase flights from 20 gates it operates at Love Field in Dallas. That's because a 1979 federal rule, the Wright Amendment, that had limited air traffic at Love Field to within Texas and neighboring states has been repealed.

Southwest is vying for two additional gates at Love Field that American Airlines and US Airways had to give up in a settlement with the Justice Department over antitrust concerns about their merger.

The extra gates would give Southwest 20 more flights a day.

"Southwest has laid out its vision for service to 12 new cities from Love using those gates," Brett Snyder, author of CrankyFlier.com, wrote in an e-mail post. Philadelphia is among the 12 cities on Southwest's list, he said.


lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831215-854-2831 

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