Oct. 12 (UPI) — Southwest Airlines announced Monday that the company would expand services to major airports in Chicago and Houston in the first half of 2021.
Southwest will begin flights from O’Hare International Airport, expanding from smaller Midway Airport, where the company has operated a hub since 1985.
In Houston, Southwest will return to its roots with flights out of Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, expanding from services at Houston Hobby Intercontinental Airport. The company started at what is now George Bush in 1971 and moved completely to Houston Hobby in 2005.
“Southwest owes decades of success to our employees and customers who have supported our business in Chicago and Houston,” CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement. “Today’s announcement furthers our commitment to both cities as we add service to share Southwest’s value and hospitality with more leisure and business travelers.”
Southwest employs 4,000 workers in Houston and 4,800 in Chicago, the company said. The company said flights and ticket prices would be announced later.
Also on Monday, Southwest announced a partnership with the Stanford University School of Medicine to follow health practices to protect passengers and staff from the coronavirus. The company pledged to install HEPA air filters on all aircraft, require masks on flights and leave middle seats vacant, as well as maintain a disinfecting schedule at all airline terminals.
As larger airlines such as United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are shrinking numbers of flights and threatening furloughs and layoffs, Dallas-based Southwest appears to be challenging competition by expanding to larger hubs from small regional airports.
U.S. commercial airline traffic has dropped by almost 50% to 14,640 flights per day this month from 29,160 in October last year, according to Flightaware, an international aviation site.
In July, about 28% of Southwest employees opted for extended leaves of absence or buyouts under threats of furloughs.
Furlough protections and $25 billion in rescue funds from the CARES Act expired Oct. 1 for airlines, leaving more than 30,000 airline workers facing unemployment. Congress and the White House have not yet agreed on a new stimulus package.