Southwest Airlines Co., the low-cost U.S. carrier that made its fortune by flying short hops, said Tuesday it will begin nonstop cross-country flights in September, once again threatening its larger rivals.
The transcontinental service will be between Baltimore/Washington and Los Angeles International Airport, with two daily flights, Chief Executive James Parker said.
The new flights, a departure from Southwest Airlines' short-haul signature, come even as demand for air travel in general remains well below year-ago levels in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In April, major U.S. carriers reported a decline in systemwide traffic of about 12%, reversing the trend of gradual improvement. In March, traffic was down about 9%.
The airline, based in Dallas, was the only one of the top eight U.S. carriers to post a profit in both the fourth quarter of 2001 and the first quarter of this year. Unlike bigger rivals, it did not lay off employees or cut back capacity.
Parker said Southwest did see some very long lines in the fourth quarter, especially during the holidays.
"We have made a lot of progress in the airports," he said. "The flow of the customers is coming back to what it was in the pre-9/11 world."
Including the new service, Parker said third-quarter capacity will be up 8% over last year, with full-year growth of about 5%.
Southwest shares closed down 15 cents at $17.84 on the New York Stock Exchange.