Local News

Triangle Travelers Benefit from "Southwest Effect"

Posted March 9, 1999

— Southwest Airlinesdoesn't start flying out ofRaleigh-Durham Internationaluntil June, but Triangle travelers are already benefiting from its arrival. Three airlines have dropped their prices to match Southwest's low fares.

MetroJet,U.S. Airways, andDelta Expresshave all lowered prices to destinations including Tampa, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn.; Baltimore, Md.

U.S. Air and Midway are both offering round-trip tickets from RDU to Baltimore for $138 non-refundable with a 21-day advance purchase. That's down from about $300.

When Southwest Airlines takes off, air fares tend to come down. It's called the "Southwest effect." At RDU, some fares have dropped 50 percent with no restrictions.

Travel agent Robert Rube, of ITG Travel, says the biggest impact initially will be in jet service to Nashville.

"American Airlinesis flying commuters right now and bringing in a jet service, I think the business travelers for sure are going to migrate to the jet service," Rube says.

The no-frills airline isn't scheduled to start flying from RDU until June 6, but other airlines are already launching pre-emptive strikes by dropping their fares now to destinations Southwest will service.

The effect on Triangle travelers confirms what many believe: when Southwest enters a market, it's good for consumers.

RDU Spokesman Mike Blanton takes, for example, when Southwest entered the Baltimore-Washington market in 1993. "They saw a significant increase in passenger traffic the first year," Blanton says. In fact, passenger traffic there increased by 36 percent.

"Here at RDU we've experienced about eight or nine percent growth each year in passenger traffic over the past four or five years. That could easily double, if not exceed that, when Southwest gets here in June," Blanton says.

The theory is that lower fares invite casual travelers to take a weekend trip when they might otherwise stay home. The competition could continue to drive ticket prices down in the months before Southwest arrives, according to Blanton.

Southwest will introduce its first flights at the beginning of the summer travel season.


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