by Bruce Myint | February 01, 2004
Dallas-based Southwest Airline’s upcoming service to Philadelphia has won applause from planners, a response experts predict will spread as low-fare carriers penetrate more hubs held by the big six.
   Southwest begins nonstop daily service in May from Philly to Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Providence and Tampa. Last-minute one-way fares will cost $299 or less. 
   “We are thrilled,” said Sue Wagner, CMP, vice president of sales and marketing at Premier Meetings Solutions, a West Conshohocken, Pa.-based association management firm, adding that some of her executives drive two hours to Baltimore for less expensive Southwest flights.
   “We’re hoping this will light a fire under US Airways,” Wagner added. She expects Southwest’s fares to cost much less than those now offered by the Arlington, Va.-based carrier, which pledged to cut costs and streamline operations.
   “They’ll have to match prices if they want to compete,” said Jay Ellenby, president and CEO of Safe Harbors, a Baltimore-based corporate travel management company. He added that US Airways, which emerged from Chapter 11 last March, still faces a tough year. While low-cost carriers have snatched up hubs before, the recent surge is in response to the growing demand from business travelers, he said.
   “It’s difficult to predict where Southwest will go next,” said Ellenby. “It was surprising that they chose Philadelphia, because they usually opt for smaller airports with quick turnarounds.”
   In today’s market, travelers can expect low-cost carriers to move into airports that are underserved and overpriced. Ellenby cited Dallas and Pittsburgh as two cities likely to draw new discount service.