Southwest looks to grow where rivals downsize

Mon Feb 10, 2014 3:40pm EST
 
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By Karen Jacobs

(Reuters) - Southwest Airlines (LUV.N: Quote) is looking for opportunities to add service in markets where other merged carriers have scaled back, the budget carrier's Chairman and Chief Executive Gary Kelly said on Monday.

The growth opportunities are "very exciting for all of our employees who want to do more," Kelly said in an interview.

Kelly said Southwest was paying "close attention" to cities such as Memphis, Tennessee - a former Northwest Airlines hub and a market where Delta Air Lines (DAL.N: Quote) reduced flights in last year - as well as Cleveland, a Midwestern city that United Continental Holdings (UAL.N: Quote) recently said it would drop as a hub.

Kelly, who began his career at Southwest as a controller more than 20 years ago and was named CEO in 2004, noted that when American Airlines reduced operations in Nashville in the 1990s, Southwest raised its daily departures in that market to about 80 from 18.

He also said that Southwest became the largest carrier in St. Louis, Missouri, since American scaled back there following its acquisition of Trans World Airlines.

"Memphis is a smaller community, it probably has smaller potential than the two examples I provided there, but we're going to pay very close attention to it," Kelly said in an interview in Atlanta.

"We're excited about being able to grow there and we'll do as much as we can. Cleveland, I think, is the same way."

Southwest has new opportunities to add flights after recently acquiring takeoff and landing rights at New York's LaGuardia and Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C., that American Airlines Group (AAL.O: Quote) agreed to sell to settle a U.S. Justice Department suit challenging its merger with US Airways, which was completed in December.   Continued...

 
Southwest Airlines jets wait on the tarmac at Denver International Airport in Denver January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking