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ROUTES: Southwest and JetBlue hint at new markets from Washington

Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways will likely use a majority of their freshly won slots at Washington National airport to launch new markets.

The two carriers indicate that a formal announcement on their new routes is imminent. “We will announce them in the next three weeks,” says JetBlue’s director of route planning John Checketts at Routes Americas in San Salvador.

Southwest and JetBlue emerged as the biggest winners of the coveted slots at the slot-controlled Washington National airport, following an auction of slots divested by American Airlines. American had to relinquish the slots as a condition imposed by the US Department of Justice upon its merger with US Airways.

Southwest won 27 slot pairs, while JetBlue emerged with 12 pairs in addition to eight pairs it had previously leased from American and subsequently purchased.

Both carriers were coy on where they would fly to with the new slots, but indicated to Flightglobal that big cities will likely feature among the new markets that will receive flights.

“We plan to strengthen some of the markets that we are already serving,” says Southwest’s senior director of network planning John Kirby. “We are also adding to those markets… it’s going to be a mix but it will be slightly weighted towards new markets.”

Pointing out that Southwest’s portfolio at Washington National is “limited”, Kirby says the new slots will allow the airline to expand to “key cities in our network”. He adds that a city like Chicago, for example, would be a “logical” addition from Washington National.

Southwest and its AirTran Airways subsidiary serve Austin, Atlanta, St Louis, Houston Hobby, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Fort Myers non-stop from National.

Referring to speculation on where the Dallas-based carrier would fly to, Kirby says: “Many colleagues here [at Routes Americas] have come up to us and said, ‘I bet you are going to do this, I bet you are going to do that’, and you know, 80-90% of them will be right.”

Like Southwest, JetBlue will use its new slots to boost frequencies on existing markets and launch new ones. “It will be both, but it will be more on the side of new destinations,” Checketts tells Flightglobal. “They might not be new for JetBlue, but they will definitely be new to DCA.”

Potential new markets include those north of Fort Lauderdale, he adds. The airline now serves San Juan, Boston, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando non-stop from Washington National.

Besides Southwest and JetBlue, Virgin America won the remaining four slot pairs in the auction. The California-based carrier has also yet to announce where it will fly to with the new slots.

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