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Southwest Airlines to introduce US transcontinental ‘red-eye’ flights by 2026  

Dallas-based low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines is planning to introduce overnight flights for the first time in its 57-year history. The first flights, which will initially operate from Hawaii and Las Vegas, are expected to start by 2026, according to Ryan Green, Southwest’s Chief Commercial Officer speaking at the Routes Americas 2024 conference in Bogota, Colombia held from March 19 to 21, 2024. No formal date has yet been set for the launch of the overnight flights, according to Green. 

Overnight flights, commonly referred to as “red-eye flights,” are offered by most of the major US carriers, although Southwest has conspicuously always remained outside of this group. Such flights have traditionally remained attractive to certain customers as they often offer lower fares than on daytime flights by the same airline on the same route. They also offer travelers based on the West Coast of the US the opportunity to complete a full day’s work at an East Coast destination the following day.  

However, the main advantage for airlines that operate so-called red-eye services is that they can provide additional hours of aircraft utilization during hours that they would otherwise be sitting dormant at airports overnight. Any hours when a commercial aircraft is not flying is a lost opportunity to earn revenue.  

According to a recent survey carried out by The Washington Post, Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) handles at least 26 overnight flights that depart after 2100. Such flights tend to be longer than four hours in duration and connect the city with the major population and business centers on the East Coast including Atlanta, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C. 

Eliyahu Yosef Parypa / Shutterstock

While Southwest Airlines has built a strong reputation for a steadfast approach to its tried-and-tested approach to air travel, the airline is being forced to find alternative ways to bolster its bottom-line performance amid growing competition from other US-based low-cost carriers such as Allegiant,  Spirit, and Frontier to name just a few.  

Offering all-economy unassigned seating and complimentary checked bags appears to no longer be enough for the Texas-based carrier that has seen its fair share of public relations issues and erosion of profits in recent years. The airline’s huge IT failure during the peak holiday season of 2022 was just one example where the airline was accused of failing to invest in its infrastructure which led to misery for tens of thousands of its most-loyal customers at a critical period for air travel. 

At the Routes Americas 2024 conference, Green disclosed that it remains his belief that there is the potential for Southwest to run approximately 50 red-eye flights nightly. per day. With operating costs rising due to ongoing inflation and new labor agreements coming into effect, Green said Southwest has to remain “maniacally focused on being efficient.”  

The addition of overnight flights would enable the carrier to expand without the expense of purchasing new planes. With an all-Boeing 737 fleet and facing significant entry-into-service of its huge outstanding order for the yet-to-be certified 737 MAX 7 variant, the company is coming under increasing pressure to find innovative ways to increase revenues while addressing its fixed costs. The instigation of night flights could go a long way in achieving that goal. 

The post Southwest Airlines to introduce US transcontinental ‘red-eye’ flights by 2026   appeared first on AeroTime.

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