Buried news: Southwest cutting back at PHL

Southwest issued a news release today that did what journalists call "burying the lead" of the story, at least if you're from Philly or care about PHL service. Next March, Southwest says it will exit four non-stop markets from PHL: Pittsburgh, Providence, RI, Manchester, NH and Jacksonville. You have to delve deep into this Southwest blog post to find the information.

Providence and Manchester were among the first cities Southwest served when it came to PHL in 2004. They are less important to it now that it serves  Boston. PIT and JAX were added later. All three were done at a time US Airways was not only the sole carrier on the routes but was far weaker than it is now. US, of course is making money again, and has shown no signs of a major abandonment of its routes into the PHL hub. Southwest, in the meantime, has become more like other carriers in many ways (except bag fees!) including trying to increase its "stage lengths," or the average length of its non-stop routes.

More will no doubt be written about Southwest's PHL plans, but this much we know now: Fares are likely to go (back) up on the routes Southwest is leaving, although maybe not to the lofty gouging levels they once were when only US Airways had non-stops. At the moment, fares to PVD and MHT are among the lowest from PHL you can find -- a sign that neither SW nor US are making much, if any, money on them. And fares are going up methodically these days anyway, on all routes and all carriers, as demand stays strong, fuel costs rise and airlines don't expand the number of seats for sale.

I guess the good news is Southwest is not about to make PHL one of the few airports it's ever abandoned completely. Unlike a decade ago, fares are competitive now to most of the country from PHL, thanks almost exclusively to Southwest's presence.