MIAMI – Southwest Airlines is moving its Southern Ohio operation from Dayton to Cincinnati, abandoning yet another secondary airport for a primary one. Service at Dayton, which includes year-round flights to Chicago Midway and seasonal flights to Orlando and Tampa will end June 3, 2017 with service at Cincinnati beginning the next day. Southwest’s initial route portfolio at Cincinnati will include 5 daily flights to Chicago Midway and 3 to Baltimore Washington, making Cincinnati one of the smallest stations (and new stations) in Southwest’s network.
Southwest’s presence in Dayton was inherited in the 2010 merger with AirTran, which had made a business serving smaller American metropolises with lower frequency flights to multiple destinations. Dayton is one of just several ex-Air Tran cities seen as a weak performer in Southwest’s network. Akron/Canton, also in Ohio, will be eliminated from Southwest’s network in June 2017 as well, and other ex AirTran cities like Flint, Des Moines, Grand Rapids, and Wichita are all consistently poor in terms of loads and fares.
Along with the de-hubbing of Atlanta and dropping the 717 fleet, it is clear that the Southwest – AirTran merger has had an uneven impact in terms of actually expanding Southwest’s network horizons (give or take international service). It would appear that the primary benefit from the merger continues to be the elimination of a competitor.
For Cincinnati, the entrance of Southwest is a welcome burst of competition in an ex-legacy carrier hub still somewhat beholden to Delta Air Lines, which maintains a modest focus city of around 80 peak day departures serving 35 destinations (Paris, Cancun, and 33 domestic ones). At this point Southwest is functionally a legacy carrier, so the downward pressure on fares at Cincinnati after its entry will not be quite as severe as in the heyday of the Southwest Effect, but there will still be a benefit to air travelers in the Cincinnati metro area, who consistently pay some of the highest fares in the country.
Dayton, located an hour (60 miles) north of Cincinnati has been in a death spiral in terms of traffic numbers for a while now. After peaking at 1.5 million passengers in 2008, Dayton’s 2015 traffic had dropped to 1.1 million in 2015 after major flight cuts from Southwest. This next set of cuts will push Dayton’s passenger numbers below 1 million passengers in all likelihood, positioning Dayton as the latest victim in the “middle class” of US airports between 1 and 5 million passengers.