Southwest Airlines is finally coming to Montana and adding a new destination in Florida. Just in time for the summer season, the new flights will cater to travelers looking for an outdoor adventure and represent Southwest’s continued strategy of adding new cities to its network and connecting them to its bases.

Southwest adds new points to route network

From May 27th, Southwest Airlines will finally start operations in the state of Montana. The carrier will launch flights from Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) in Montana. Initial service will include two daily flights to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) and Denver International Airport (DEN). Flights to Denver will increase to four daily roundtrips on June 6th.

Meanwhile, in Florida, Southwest is adding Destin/Ft. Walton Beach to its route network. The airline will launch flights on May 6th to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS). Initial service includes one daily roundtrip to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) and one to Dallas-Love Field (DAL).

The airline will also launch three daily roundtrips to Nashville International Airport (BNA). On June 6th, Southwest will inaugurate a new service between Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) and VPS with one roundtrip per day.

Outdoor leisure destinations prove key

Southwest has focused on adding new leisure destinations throughout the crisis– especially to warm weather and outdoor destinations. Just a few examples of these include:

  • Sarasota, Florida
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Palm Springs, California
  • Montrose, Colorado
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Steamboat Springs, Colorado

All of these flights are scheduled to start at various points this year if they have not already gone into operation.

Destin/Ft. Walton Beach is located in the Florida panhandle is another beach destination in Florida. Southwest’s VPS flights will complement its other services to Pensacola and Panama City in the Florida panhandle. VPS is a major base for Allegiant Air.

Meanwhile, Southwest coming to Bozeman is good news for leisure travelers who want to visit Yellowstone. Bozeman is the closest airport to the park that Southwest will serve. Previously, customers who wanted to fly Southwest would need to fly into Salt Lake City or Denver and do the mammoth drive to the park.

In addition to Yellowstone, Bozeman also is home to several ski resorts and outdoor tourist destinations. Montana has a lot of natural beauty that visitors to Bozeman can view.

Bozeman is also a growing city, which means Southwest can target new customers and make them loyal fliers. Bozeman is not Montana’s largest city, but it is one of its fastest-growing cities and has easy park access, making it a logical addition to Southwest’s network.

What about Southwest’s point-to-point model?

Southwest Airlines is adding new cities, but it is largely connecting those new cities to its bases. All of the airports getting new service to Florida and Montana (Baltimore, Midway, Dallas-Love, Nashville, Denver, and Las Vegas) are all big Southwest bases.

There will undoubtedly be some point-to-point traffic that Southwest can target, but these flights will also benefit from the connections Southwest can provide. For example, passengers wanting to go from Austin or Phoenix or Los Angeles to Bozeman can connect in Denver, helping Southwest keep its Bozeman-bound planes full.

Nevertheless, over 70% of Southwest’s passengers flew nonstop on a point-to-point service in 2020. That number will still be high in 2021. How high will depend on how Southwest brings its network back and expands services. The hub-and-spoke model has worked for many years in the industry, so while it is a little unlike Southwest to move closer to a hub-and-spoke network, it is a familiar industry playbook.

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