Southwest will start Logan run in August
Daily flights to serve Chicago, Baltimore
"We are very enthusiastic and optimistic about Boston Logan," said Bob Jordan, Southwest's executive vice president of strategy and planning. "We're starting very conservative, but I wouldn't be surprised to see us adding flights eventually."
He declined to offer additional detail about future expansion.
Analysts expected Chicago and Baltimore would be among Southwest's first destinations from Logan, as they are among the most heavily trafficked of the carrier's so-called focus cities. With those two destinations, Southwest will be able to offer direct or connecting service to more than 48 others. Southwest, which will operate from two gates in Terminal E at Logan, will offer introductory fares as low as $89 one-way for Chicago and $49 one-way for Baltimore/Washington.
The carrier will base about 40 full- time employees in Boston.
While Southwest is a newcomer to the city, it has been serving airports near Manchester, N.H., Providence, and Hartford since the late 1990s. The carrier has had its eye on Boston for some time, but as recently as last April said it probably wouldn't be coming to Logan in 2009, citing high costs for fuel and operating expenses at the airport.
But with the cost of oil now at about a third of what it was last year, Jordan said, the carrier saw an opportunity to shift planes from less profitable routes to more desirable ones.
"We've been wanting to come to Boston for a while because we found that we weren't really luring big numbers of passengers from the central Boston area to Manchester and Providence," he said.
The move was also part of a shift in the airline's strategy. For years, Southwest looked to fly into less congested airports near secondary cities, where fees and taxes are lower and turnaround times are shorter. But the carrier was running out of them.
At the same time, Southwest, like some of its competitors, is focusing more on business customers, because they fly more frequently and are less concerned about paying higher prices for last-minute bookings.
In response, Southwest has begun moving into more airports near large business centers. Last month, the airline launched flights out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and last week it announced its inaugural schedule at LaGuardia Airport in New York City.
In trying to attract more business customers, Jordan said, the airline found many clients were willing to fly into cities near business centers, but there was also interest in flying directly into those cities.