Southwest Airlines is dramatically altering its schedule at Greenville-Spartanburg International and will offer just three flights a day to one city — Atlanta — next year, a sharp reversal from the seven daily flights to five cities when the airline arrived at the airport more than four years ago.
Southwest slowly has been cutting its flight schedule from GSP in recent years. The latest move could disappoint some passengers and community leaders who counted on the airline to contain fares at GSP that have been among the highest in the nation.
But the Atlanta flights will provide more access to Southwest's route network, enabling passengers to connect to western, northeast and international destinations with one-stop travel. Southwest gained a significant Atlanta presence with its acquisition of AirTran Airways, whose main hub was Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
"There were many factors that went into the decision including studying local travel patterns," Dan Landson, a Southwest spokesman, said Tuesday of GSP. "The new schedule, which will take effect on April 12, will give customers more access to our expansive network which includes more than 95 destinations across the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. We understand changes are tough but one thing that won’t change is our commitment to delivering our world-renowned customer service, hospitality and low fares on all of our flights."
The three Atlanta flights also will send Southwest into Delta Air Lines' largest hub. GSP passengers can fly Delta to Atlanta and connect with that airline's network of domestic and international flights.
Southwest began its GSP service in March 2011 with seven daily departures – two to Baltimore/Washington and Chicago Midway and one departure to Nashville, Houston and Orlando. The Dallas-based discount airline operated from two gates in GSP's main terminal.
At the same time, Southwest began service from Charleston with seven daily departures. Flights from GSP and Charleston marked Southwest's entry into South Carolina.
Southwest, while remaining committed to the local market, said last year the airline was evaluating its passenger gate requirements at GSP. The airline said changes reflected adjustments to demand and airplane needs. Southwest also expanded to Charlotte.
Robert Mann, an airline industry consultant, said last year GSP was in "an unenviable position" of having to compete with Charlotte, one of the nation's largest airports.
The number of passengers is important because airports generally charge landing fees based on weight and passenger volume, Mann said.