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Southwest plans to boost Hub service, local staff

Southwest began service from Logan in August, with flights to Chicago Midway Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Southwest began service from Logan in August, with flights to Chicago Midway Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2009)
By Paul Makishima
Globe Staff / April 28, 2010

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Southwest Airlines will continue its aggressive expansion in Boston, with plans to add workers to accommodate the growth of nonstop flights here, which will have more than doubled by early September, a little more than a year since the carrier launched service at Logan International Airport.

The low-cost airline said yesterday that it will begin daily nonstop service to Phoenix, starting Sept. 7, bringing the total number of dailies at Logan to 26 from just 10 last summer. Southwest also said that it would increase its ground operations staff of customer service and ramp workers by 30 to a total of 70.

The single daily flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will mark the sixth nonstop destination offered by the lower-price carrier since it launched service in August to Chicago Midway Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. In September, Dallas-based Southwest said that it would add nonstop flights from Logan to Denver International Airport and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, and in February it revealed plans to start service to Philadelphia International Airport in June.

Analysts say that they are not surprised by Southwest’s aggressive expansion here.

“This is fairly typical for Southwest. Start small and expand to feed its hub/key markets,’’ said Henry H. Harteveldt, vice president and principal aviation analyst at Forrester Research. “What Southwest’s actions reflect is simple: It’s successfully attracting more passengers to its flights.’’

Daniel Kasper, head of the transportation practice at the Cambridge office of LECG, an economic and financial consulting firm, agrees that the moves are classic Southwest. But he also thinks the carrier is tailoring its strategy to the Boston market.

“I think it says first that Southwest wants to establish a major presence in Boston and to become the low-cost carrier of choice on key routes to/from Boston before other [low-cost carriers] do so,’’ he said, particularly JetBlue, one of the airline’s biggest rivals at Logan. “In addition, the expansion at Boston continues Southwest’s apparent strategy of establishing a significant presence in northeastern US cit ies.’’

Southwest already offered nonstop service to Arizona’s capital city from T.F. Green, near Providence, and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, N.H. The airline also said yesterday that it would begin flying from Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport to Phoenix in August.

After adding the Philadelphia flights, which will grow to eight a day before summer’s end, and the Phoenix service, Southwest determined that it needed additional staff at Logan. Massport officials say that Southwest, which occupies two gates in Terminal E and has 40 customer service and ramp workers at Logan, will pick up a third gate by the time it begins flying to the City of Brotherly Love.

“Our plans have really ramped up pretty fast,’’ said Paul Flaningan, a Southwest spokesman.

Separately, federal regulators hit Southwest with a $200,000 fine for breaking rules on bumping passengers from oversold flights, according to the Associated Press. The US Transportation Department lets airlines sell more seats than they have available as some passengers fail to show up, but if too many passengers arrive, the agency requires airlines to first ask for volunteers to give up seats for compensation before bumping passengers. Travelers who involuntarily lose their seats are entitled to compensation and written statements detailing their rights along with an explanation of how the carrier decides who gets bumped.

Paul S. Makishima can be reached at Makishima@globe.com.