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MIAMI — Virgin America has announced its second expansion from its focus city at Dallas Love Field, this time adding five daily flights to nearby Austin.  The new flights will begin on April 28 and will utilize Airbus A319s.  The 50 minute flight will be among the shortest in Virgin’s route network, and it represents a departure from the focus on transcontinental flights that have been the carrier’s bread and butter since it was founded.  This is their fifth route operating from Love Field and the second from Austin (after San Francisco).  In order to celebrate the new route, Virgin is offering fares of $39 each way through midnight Thursday.  Other routes are also on sale as part of the celebration, which Virgin is calling “Texas Just Got Smaller.”

Based on earlier statements from the airline, we have been expecting Virgin to add a twice daily flight to Chicago this year, as well as one additional frequency each to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, bringing all existing routes up to four daily frequencies.  It now appears that the only part of that plan that will be put into action is the addition of one frequency to Los Angeles.  The addition of service to Austin instead is largely unexpected.  Virgin has said that it will be key to offering connecting service to and from Austin, since only San Francisco flights are currently available there.

This expansion demonstrates Virgin’s willingness to compete directly with Southwest Airlines.  Southwest operates 10 daily flights on the same route using all four sub-types of the 737 in their fleet, including the largest, the -800.  With 1,357 daily seats, Southwest will still have a significant capacity advantage over Virgin’s 595, but Virgin offers a more substantial product range that may prove attractive to the many business travelers who commute between the two cities on a regular basis.

With the addition of both the Austin flights and another daily frequency to Los Angeles, Virgin will finally meet their contractual obligations for gate utilization at Love Field.  They will be operating 19 daily departures in total, along with hosting two daily departures by Seaport Airlines.  This means that Virgin’s gates will not be subjected to forced accommodations of other carriers, like Delta, who are seeking to serve Love Field as well.  It is unclear if Virgin will attempt to add additional flights to its schedule in the future, but they will have to be very careful in doing so as capacity will be at a new premium.