United and Continental agree to transfer 18 Newark slot pairs to Southwest

Washington DC
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Stymied in expanding at New York LaGuardia airport, Southwest Airlines has secured another chance to broaden its New York scope through an agreement to lease 18 slot pairs at Newark airport from United and Continental.

Continental and United are the process of closing their proposed merger and seeking approval of the tie-up from regulators.

Continental, which has a large hub at Newark, explains leasing slots to Southwest would allay some concerns expressed by the US Department of Justice regarding its merger with United. Currently United and Continental operate 442 daily roundtrip flights from Newark.

Southwest launched flights from slot-controlled New York LaGuardia in June 2009, and has expressed an interest in expanding at the airport. The carrier criticised a slot swap proposal from Delta and US Airways at LaGuardia and Washington National airports, arguing it was anti-competitive, and also contended that if the carriers were required to divest slots, the divesture should be conducted in a cash auction. Delta and US Airways are currently appealing a rejection by US regulators of their slot swap proposal.

Southwest currently serves Chicago Midway with five daily nonstop flights and Baltimore, Maryland three times daily from a single gate at LaGuardia. The carrier explains adding Newark complements its service from LaGuardia and Long Island Islip, where Southwest offers nonstop flights to Las Vegas and the Florida destinations of Orlando, Tampa Bay, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

In a prepared statement Southwest explains the Newark lease deal is contingent on United and Continental closing their merger by 30 November and receiving certain government approvals.

If those contingencies are met Southwest says it would inaugurate some flights from Newark starting in March 2011 and roll-out a full schedule by June of that year.

Southwest states the slots are spread throughout the day, allowing the carrier an ability to "integrate Newark service conveniently" into its extensive national route network.