Southwest Airlines carries more passengers than any other U.S. Carrier. It's known as the low-fare airline, and the carrier is living up to its word as it prepares to enter the Twin Cities market.
During a ceremony at the Mall of America, Southwest executive vice president Ron Ricks announced Southwest's fares.
"How low will Southwest go?" Ricks asked. "As low as $69 to Chicago's Midway airport. With very low fares to at least 30 more cities beyond."
That's for a ticket purchased 21 days in advance. Southwest's Web site indicates its highest one-way fare on the route will be about $160.
Southwest's fares are much lower than what Northwest, American and United airlines have been charging for flights between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Generally, their cheapest round-trip fares have been about $380 according to FareCompare.com. Fares soared after AirTran Airways pulled off the route earlier this year.
In response to Southwest's entry into the market, Northwest Airlines is adding flights to Chicago, and Northwest said it will match Southwest fares.
Southwest's Ricks has some advice for Twin Cities consumers who'd like to see low airfares stick on the Chicago route and spread to other destinations. Fly Southwest.
"If you go, fares stay low," Ricks said. "If you don't they won't."
Ricks said Southwest could add more flights and non-stop destinations out of the Twin cites.
"If the market responds, as we hope and believe it will, there are a multitude of potential nonstop destinations from Minneapols-St. Paul," he said. "But again it really does depend on the customer response."
Southwest will fly out of the Humphrey Terminal at the Twin Cities airport. The airline will fly Boeing 737-300 jets on the route that seat 137 passengers.
In Chicago, Southwest will provide connections to more than 30 destinations, including Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles, Houston, Providence and Baltimore/Washington. In many cases, travelers will wait no more than an hour or two to connect with other flights.
Southwest said about half its customers are traveling on business. And Doug Fulton, of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, expects many of his constituents will jump on Southwest.
"We trust this market will be attractive to Southwest not only for discretionary travelers but also business travelers who are looking for additional options," Fulton said.
Minneapolis-based travel expert Terry Trippler expects Southwest could win a five to ten percent share of local air travelers. That'd take a few years and require additional flights. But Trippler said that seems to be in the cards.
"They're probably going to expand here quite rapidly and probably be number two in the Twin Cities in a couple of years," Trippler said.
A distant number two, of course, to Delta Air Lines, which recently acquired Northwest Airlines. Northwest has long flown about 60 percent of local air travelers.
For bargain-hunting air travelers, Southwest's arrival is indeed great news. But Northwest Airlines has a long track record of dispatching low-fare airlines that slash fares in Northwest's Twin Cities hub. Northwest has sent many of them packing over the years. That same tenacity may still be there as Northwest is merged into Delta Air Lines.
But no other low-fare carrier has the size, resources or staying power Southwest does. Southwest is the nation's biggest domestic airline. Yet Northwest is now part of Delta Air Lines, which is the world's biggest international airline.
When these two giants collide, it could make for an interesting fight. One that will likely benefit travelers for as long as it lasts.