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Southwest Adds Phoenix to Its Daily Flights : Airlines: Low-cost carrier at John Wayne Airport will charge $79 each way. Competitor America West now charges $183 but says it expects to match the lower fare for most seats.


SANTA ANA — Southwest Airlines said Wednesday that it will begin service Jan. 15 from John Wayne Airport to Phoenix with four daily flights at $79 each way.

That fare will be less than half of the $183 one-way fare now being charged by America West Airlines, the major carrier on the route, which has five daily flights from Orange County to Phoenix. An America West official said the carrier expects to match Southwest's fare for most seats.

Southwest said the four new flights will be in addition to the 17 daily flights the airline already offers from Orange County to Oakland, San Jose and Salt Lake City.

"I think that is going to be very, very good," said Thom Nulty, president of Associated Travel Management, a travel agency chain based in Santa Ana. Service to Phoenix, he said, now costs "more than it should."

Southwest officials have said they are eager to increase their number of flights at John Wayne. The airport strictly limits the number of flights as a way of reducing noise.

Southwest was able to add the four flights by agreeing to operate them in a more restrictive noise category, which sometimes requires airlines to limit the number of passengers they carry or the amount of fuel, said John Leyerle, the airport's chief access and noise officer.

Phoenix is not only an important destination for Orange County business travelers, it is also Southwest's major gateway to nonstop flights bound for 20 other cities.

"This is just really going to open the door for people traveling out of Orange County," said Cheryl Hoban, an Orange County-based marketing representative for Southwest. "Right now, they are fairly restricted."

Southwest started Orange County service in May with eight flights a day to San Jose and seven a day to Oakland. It also picked up two daily flights to St. Louis when it bought Morris Air Service earlier this year.

Now, travelers can potentially connect with any of the 164 Southwest daily flights out of Phoenix. The airport there is also used for connections by America West, which is competing with Southwest on many of its short-haul routes.

"It is not totally unexpected," said Marilyn Hoppe, an America West vice president, adding that Southwest's expansion is not unexpected.

She said she does not expect a major effect on America West's business, though, because the two carriers serve different markets, with America West offering amenities like meals and advance seat reservations.

Southwest, based in Dallas, has been one of the few consistently profitable airlines in the past few years. The carrier's strategy is to offer no-frills service and rock-bottom fares on short-distance flights.

It eschews travel agent reservation systems, reserved seating and meals. It also has mastered the ability to reload planes quickly.

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