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Southwest plans small Miami operation, mum on planned routes
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Southwest plans small Miami operation, mum on planned routes

20-years ago travelers in search of deals would drive to an airport like Fort Lauderdale for Southwest's cheap flights. No so much anymore the airline's CEO Gary Kelly said of the plans to add Miami to its map by year-end.

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Southwest Airlines is betting that it can grow out of the coronavirus pandemic as it has nearly every past economic crisis since its first flight took off from Dallas Love Field in 1971.

No new destination is more emblematic of that expansionist mindset than its plan to add Miami (MIA) by the end of the year. A major international gateway, the airport is South Florida’s equivalent of Boston Logan (BOS) or Los Angeles (LAX). It’s a major hub for American Airlines and South American carriers, better known for its connections to Rio de Janeiro than cheap U.S. flights.

“Yes, we have a lot of flights at Fort Lauderdale,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told TPG in an exclusive interview. “That does not mean that we’re going to be able to grab customers from Miami and get them to drive to our airport. 20 years ago, maybe, but not now.”

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Southwest unveiled plans to serve Miami, along with Palm Springs (PSP), earlier in September. The new Miami service will complement its long-standing service to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and West Palm Beach (PBI) in South Florida.

The Dallas-based carrier has not said where it will fly from Miami. Kelly also declined to spill the beans when speaking to TPG, saying only that Miami will be a smaller operation — especially compared to its mid-sized base in Fort Lauderdale.

Southwest operated up to 69 daily departures from Fort Lauderdale in September 2019 — since cut to just 28 daily departures due to COVID-19 — according to Cirium schedules. The airport is one of the airline’s main gateways to the Caribbean and Latin America, spurred by the opening of a new international concourse there in 2017.