It may sound ridiculous to some, but Southwest Airlines is finally entering the big time. The carrier just announced that on June 30, it will start flying from LaGuardia Airport in New York City.
Shockingly, Southwest managed to achieve its airborne ubiquity without properly serving, oh, the biggest city in the country. The nearest Southwest airport to the City that Never Sleeps is in Islip, Long Island, which is about 50 miles east and out of reach of plenty of inhabitants, many of whom don't have cars.
Few New Yorkers I know have ever known the pleasure of Southwest's general admission seating plans, super-relaxed fight attendants, its no-fee checked baggage, or its bargain-basement airfares. No one I know has ever gone to Islip to catch a Southwest flight except as part of some kind of travel experiment or dare. The bankruptcy of ATA, though, opened the way for Southwest to acquire the defunct flyer's coveted gates.
The vacuum left by Southwest in New York City is the biggest reason that JetBlue was able to take hold there, staking out its own dedicated terminal at JFK, and rise to the dominance it has achieved in its main market. If Southwest had been around to compete, New Yorkers wouldn't have latched onto JetBlue quite so eagerly.
Now that Southwest's absence has effectively forced the creation of what is now its biggest rival, it's coming to town. So thanks, Southwest, for staying away, and thanks again for showing up to provide even more competition. Now New Yorkers have access to two casual, no-frills flyers with major national networks.
Southwest, which will start by flying to Baltimore/Washington and to Chicago, is officially on the public transportation grid of New York City. A city bus to Manhattan costs $2 from the terminal. That's not just good news for New Yorkers, but also for the rest of America, who can finally use it to reach the Big Apple.
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