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Southwest Airlines Announces RDU Flights

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RDU INTERNATIONAL — A new airline is landing in the Triangle. Beginning this summer,Southwest Airlineswill offer service to and fromRDU International.

The announcement about Southwest Airlines coming to the Triangle is the biggest news at RDU sinceMidway Airlinesannounced its arrival.

Southwest is a favorite of travelers because of its low fares and "fun" nature; the carrier offers no business or first-class areas. It's also known for running flights on time.

Southwest Vice President Ron Ricks made the announcement Thursday morning. "On June 6, 1999, Southwest Airlines inaugurates 12 non-stop, daily flights to Raleigh-Durham International Airport," Ricks said.

The airline will operate out of two gates at Terminal A, connecting to its eastern hubs.

Southwest will offer four flight a day to Washington, D.C; four to Nashville, Tenn.; two to Chicago's Midway Airport; one to Tampa, Fla.; and one flight to Orlando, Fla.

Ricks says he is confident the airline will continue to grow at RDU. "We're very confident that the growth will be there for us. And if the growth is there as we anticipate, we're confident that the airport will make the space available."

Airport officials worked for years to be the North Carolina site to offer Southwest flights; RDU beat out airports in Greensboro and Charlotte.

Airport spokesman Mike Blanton expects the airline's arrival to stimulate competition. Southwest's very low fares are the hallmark of the popular airline. For example, with a seven-day advance, travelers can fly one-way to Chicago for $69 or one-way to Baltimore-Washington International airport for $39.

From the hubs, flights connect to other parts of the country, including the west coast, which is good news to business travelers.

"It provides a lot of options and very efficient options," says Harvey Schmidt of theRaleigh Chamber of Commerce. "It will definitely increase the number of people coming to the airport which creates other opportunities in and around the airport. It really is a significant event."

Southwest lands in the Triangle just in time for the Special Olympics World Games and theU.S. Open.

Southwest says it is "the largest carrier to San Jose Airport in Silicon Valley." The airline is the nation's fifth-largest air carrier, and the 14th major airline to come to the Triangle.

Southwest has more than 2,300 flights a day to 53 cities. Last year, the airline had more than 52 million passengers. The airport has a fleet of 280 Boeing 737 jets that are an average of just over eight years old.