Southwest is bringing competition to United Airlines’ turf.
The Dallas-based airline announced on Oct. 12 that it will add service at Chicago O’Hare and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, after a sixteen year absence, in 2021,. Both airports are hubs for United Airlines.
Southwest declined federal coronavirus aid earlier this summer, committed to avoiding furloughs and job cuts through the end of the year, and also announced plans to expand winter travel options for leisure travelers.
Leisure travelers have been put in the front seat as the coronavirus pandemic eliminated the demand for business travelers. Airlines shifted focus to leisure travelers who prefer beaches and destinations with plenty of outdoor space.
Southwest accounts for 23 percent of Houston’s citywide market share and is the city’s second- busiest airline, according to the Houston Business Journal.
Houston Airport System aviation director Mario Diaz said, “Houston Airports supports and applauds this decision by Southwest Airlines to grow air service offerings in Houston during a time when air carriers are doing what they can to recover from the effects of the pandemic and once again reach a point of profitability.”
In Chicago, Southwest found a competitive advantage after the pandemic reduced flights at O’Hare.
“It’s been on our wish list for a long time to supplement Midway,” Southwest chief commercial officer Andrew Watterson said to the Chicago Tribune. “The reduced flying activity with COVID-19 left open space for us to jump in.”
Southwest has roughly 4,000 employees in both Houston and Chicago.
United Airlines announced plans to return to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City in 2021.
The Chicago-based airline further expanded its international flight offerings to include destinations in India, Ghana, and Nigeria.