America West Goes Trancontinental

Low-fare SFO, LAX routes expected to create competition for business travel

By: Judi Erickson

America West Airlines’ move to launch nonstop transcontinental low-fare service this fall to San Francisco and Los Angeles is expected to create fierce competition for business travelers.

The new service will also boost West Coast travel, starting Oct. 26 with twice-daily nonstop flights from New York’s JFK Airport and Boston’s Logan Airport to Los Angeles International Airport.

Twice-daily nonstop flights from JFK to San Francisco are scheduled to start Dec. 19, and similar service from Boston to San Francisco, March 1.Last-minute one-way fares for the flights are set at $299, about 60 percent less than current fares in the market, airline officials said.

“High-fare carriers will have a difficult time defending selves,” said Scott Kirby, the airline’s executive vice president for sales and marketing. “We expect competition from the ‘Big 6’ to fully or partially match the prices, but on an inventory-control basis. It will be difficult for them to sacrifice the large-paying business travelers.”

America West said fares could rise as much as $100 on peak travel days but most are expected to be $299.

America West said it will use Airbus A319s on the flights that have 12 first-class seats and 112 main-cabin seats, and will specifically target business travelers with flight times out of New York and Boston about 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and flights out of San Francisco and Los Angeles about 8 a.m. and noon.

“We expected we will see significant market share gains with small- and medium-business travelers in all of these markets,” Kirby said.

America West, the third-largest carrier from the Northeast to the West, said the new flights would represent about 5 percent to 6 percent of its total service.

Some analysts questioned how America West would compete if the larger carriers match its lower fare price.

“We think this should stimulate enough traffic that all airlines in the market will be full,” Kirby said. “These markets are so large and there’s so much business traffic there, that even if they do match us, it’s still profitable.” Officials said the new flights will comprise about 7 percent of flights in those markets.The service pits America West and JetBlue, which flies from New York’s JFK to the Los Angeles area and Oakland.

A federal study released last month showed low-fare carriers are serving more long-distance markets, pushing their average fares down about 29 percent over the past two years.