See that map above? That's the Southwest Airlines' route network.
If you're familiar with Southwest, you're probably not surprised. But I was struck by the map, because of how different it is from American's, United's or Delta's. Those airlines have a few hubs in places like Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas, and passengers connect at them to reach their destinations. But Southwest carries far fewer connecting passengers, preferring a point-to-point network.
At an investment conference earlier this month, Southwest CFO Tammy Romo said about 74% of the airline's passengers do not connect. "The way we design our network has allowed for more direct nonstop routing than the hub-and-spoke service," Romo said. In a recent SEC filing, Southwest said it connects 637 city-pairs.
I was also struck by Romo's discussion about how Southwest routes its planes throughout the day. She's oversimplifying a bit, but she was explaining how Southwest starts its flying each morning on the East Coast, and the schedule slowly flows Westward. At the end of the night, Southwest schedules a lot of short-hops along the West Coast, when most of its East Coast operation is done for the day.
"You'll see the flying begins on the East Coast, then it moves into the middle of the country and head down to and back from our international destinations and then it eventually wraps up in the West Coast," Romo said. "It really is quite a little miracle what happens every day out there in the airline."
One other thing about Romo's presentation surprised me. I never think of Southwest dominating a local market the way United, American and Delta do at their fortress hubs. But when you consider an entire metro area, Southwest actually dominates domestic market share in five key regions. Are you surprised?
Want to know more about what makes Southwest unique? Last Summer, I wrote a story called, "Southwest Is the Most Contrarian U.S. Airline and That’s Why It Always Wins" for Skift.