Travelers to and from Boston, New York, Minneapolis and Denver will feel the "Southwest Effect" starting Feb. 4 -- but don't look for those happy orange planes to grace your runways.
As part of a codeshare deal that allows them to secure more gates for their own flights at Chicago Midway and prevents ATA from collapsing, Southwest is now selling seats on ATA flights. Nonstop flights between Chicago and Boston, Denver, Ft. Myers, Honolulu, Minneapolis, LaGuardia, Newark, San Francisco, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, and Washington National will now appear on www.southwest.com, bookable at the usual Southwest prices and included in Southwest sales. You'll be able to connect through Chicago to dozens of other cities, too. So welcome cheap flights from Boston to Albuquerque.
(Honolulu is a special case; Southwest knows their huge passenger demand might swamp ATA's two daily flights to that city. Don't look for too many sales to Hawaii from Southwest.)
Remember, though, that you'll be boarding an ATA plane. You'll get assigned seats on the ATA portion of the flight, and you'll be subject to ATA's service and on-time performance, which don't have Southwest's legendary status. If the ATA leg of your flight is cancelled, ATA, not Southwest, is responsible for getting you home. And if your luggage gets lost at a Chicago connection between ATA and Southwest, get ready for a lot of finger pointing between the two airlines.
I generally don't like codeshares. They confuse travelers and let airlines avoid responsibility. But I like this one, because it'll bring Southwest's sane pricing system to several airports that desperately need it -- Minneapolis, most notably. Let the $98 round-trips to Chicago bloom. The popular New York-Chicago route has also never had real low-fare service before.
You'll get frequent flier points on the airline named on your ticket. So you'll get Southwest Rapid Rewards credits for flights between Minneapolis and Chicago. But you won't be able to use free frequent flier tickets on these codeshare routes -- no free Southwest trips to Honolulu.
You'll also be able to book these flights on ATA.com, and you should definitely compare prices across the two sites for the same flights, as they'll be competing. But I'd be surprised if ATA ever undercut Southwest, even on their own planes.
USAirways Survives -- For Now
There's good news for USAirways fliers. The airline has passed their Rubicon, and they'll stay in the air until June. So feel free to book tickets on US Airways for flights until then.
Basically, US Airways jumped all the hurdles they needed to jump in the critical two first weeks of January. Their employees accepted pay cuts. The government agreed to continue its loans. So everything's hunky-dory. Sorta.
I flew twice on US Airways last week. The gate agents and the flight attendants were friendly, competent, and helpful. One flight attendant in particular went above and beyond the call of duty for me -- she's a model to her profession.
But the worms in US Airways' apple right now are baggage handling and maintenance. The planes are safe -- that's a given, and ensured by FAA inspections -- but both planes I flew on had broken entertainment systems. And when I offered to check a bag, US Airways couldn't assure me that the bag would make its connection at Philadelphia and come home to New York. That should be a given, but after the airline's disastrous performance over Christmas with baggage, apparently it isn't any more.
So go ahead, book those flights on US Airways. If you have a connection in Philadelphia, try to carry on rather than checking your bags. And spend those Dividend Miles -- because in June, we're probably going to be talking about this airline's potential demise all over again.
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