Countering a trend towards laying on longer routes over the past few years, low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines is launching a slew of new shorter West Coast and intra-California service.
Beginning August, Southwest will fly nonstop from Sacramento to Long Beach (388 miles or 463kms), as well as Sacramento to Spokane, Washington (658 miles).
Existing routes get a boost too: Sacramento – Seattle (635 miles) and Sacramento – San Diego (473 miles).
There will be 11 daily round trips between Sacramento and San Francisco and as many as a half-dozen from Sacramento to Seattle.
By contrast, Southwest’s spate of new international routes entail some long flights. Case-in-point is the carrier’s new San Diego – San Jose del Campo (SJD), Mexico service, an 802-mile jaunt down the Baja to the popular resort.
So, why does route length matter?
Airlines love to fly longer routes because of their economics.
Over a given distance it costs less to operate a flight nonstop than it does on a multi-stop or connecting basis. All that ascent to and descent from cruise altitude can mean more fuel expended, and more maintenance required.
To give that some context, The US Department of Transportation says Southwest is the United States’ largest airline in terms of originating domestic passengers boarded. Its
route map encompasses 101 domestic destinations and eight additional countries.
Back in 1971 when it first started flying, Southwest-operated flights linking three Texas airports: Dallas Love Field, Houston Hobby, and San Antonio International.
The initial fleet was tiny. Its “fleet” of three of Boeing 737-200s was kept in almost perpetual motion among the ‘Texas Triangle’ cities. Ground crews could “turn” an airplane (re-fuel, deplane passengers and their bags and load up with new flyers and their luggage) in 10 minutes.
That 10-minute turn time is gone now, and Southwest’s all-737 fleet is composed of more than 550 jets. They depart as many as 3,900 times per day.
No longer a quirky little airline and a mere thorn in the side of the competition, Southwest is a bonafide force to be reckoned with by American, Delta and United.