SAN JOSE — Ever since the demise of AirCal and PSA in the late 1980s, California has not had true official airlines. However, since the early 1990s, Southwest Airlines (WN) has cemented themselves as the state’s “go-to airline”. Since then, Southwest has fought off competitors like Shuttle by United and Ted without much issue. However, they just might have their most formidable opponent yet.
Alaska Airlines (AS) has always had a large presence in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Although WN and AS shared a few routes from Seattle (SEA) and Portland (PDX), they were never direct competitors. However, this all changed at the end of 2016, when Alaska Airlines agreed to purchase San Francisco (SFO) based Virgin America (VX). An announcement came after the merger, that the combined airline would focus their attention on the entire West Coast, especially California. They added many point-to-point routes within California and a few flights to the Midwest and East Coast, directly competing with Southwest.
Today, in line with their schedule extension, Southwest has focused its full attention on competing against Alaska on many important routes from California. They are also focused on connecting California to the East Coast and internationally, all while adding new routes for Alaska to compete against.
Ever since 2010, AS has maintained a focus city at Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC). It was their large Northern California gateway, and their third most served airport in California behind Los Angeles (LAX) and San Diego (SAN), before the merger. Even after the merger and the build-up of SFO, SJC still represents a large share of the California market for AS. Knowing this, Southwest Airlines decided to pounce while they still could.
This morning, Southwest Airlines announced service from SJC to eight new destinations: Boise (BOI), Spokane (GEG), Los Cabos (SJD), Albuquerque (ABQ), Houston-Hobby (HOU), New Orleans (MSY), St. Louis (STL), and Orlando (MCO). All flights will begin in the Spring of 2018. This will mark the first time an airline has served ABQ, HOU, MSY, and MCO directly from SJC. The expansion will take SJC from 73 daily departures on WN to 91.
Of the eight, two routes (BOI and SJD) directly compete with AS. GEG was previously served by Alaska’s subsidiary, Horizon Air (QX), until 2011. However, allegiance to AS runs deep in the Pacific Northwest, so even though this route doesn’t directly compete, it is still a jab at Alaska. The flights that do not compete with Alaska all represent cities that will allow Southwest travelers to easily move around the country and internationally into the Caribbean and Eastern Mexico. When the time comes to react, Alaska can easily serve some of the most popular markets, like New Orleans and Orlando, just based on their O&D (origin and destination) traffic alone.
SJC was not the only airport to receive new flights. Sacramento (SMF) also received a wealth of flights in the recent update. Southwest will begin service from SMF to Austin (AUS), STL, MCO, MSY, and SJD. The only new competing route between AS and Southwest from SMF will be the Los Cabos flight. Both Alaska and Southwest already fly from SMF to BOI, PDX, SEA, and San Diego (SAN). Sacramento is one of the few cities in California that has Alaska has not fully developed into “focus city” status. This Sacramento buildup for WN shows that they are both committed to California and to fighting AS.
San Francisco was also included in this recent schedule extension. Southwest will begin service to AUS in April. Once again, this will compete against Alaska at both SFO and SJC.
Southwest will also begin year-round service from Newark (EWR) to Oakland (OAK) and San Diego. Both of these routes were previously seasonal. The SAN flight will directly compete against Alaska’s route. Although OAK does not have a direct link to EWR on AS, this route will compete against Alaska’s New York City flights from SJC and SFO.
Even though it is a bit uncharacteristic to see such a large competitive reaction from Southwest, it is all too common in today’s airline industry. In a press conference today, Southwest’s Vice President Controller, Leah Koontz reiterated to Airways that, “Southwest doesn’t back down when facing competition”. How far will the Battle for the West Coast go before one of the airlines falters? Only time will tell!
I think it’s time to say this: Your move Alaska!