The Basics

How Southwest’s Point-to-Point Flights Almost Caused Me a Big Headache

southwest's point-to-point
Written by Charlie

While Southwest’s point-to-point network can be a huge help to travelers who want to avoid that middle airport stop, it can also be a hassle if something goes wrong along the way. This is what happened to me.

Most airlines operate what is know and a hub and spoke route network. This is where an airline like Delta has hubs in cities like Atlanta, Detroit, and NYC (JFK) but also operates spoke airports like Pittsburgh where they run a fair amount of flights out of as well.

How Southwest’s Point-to-Point Flights Almost Caused Me a Big Headache

Hub and Spoke vs Point-to-Point

This type of network operation allows the airline to service hundreds of airports from central locations and gives them these locations to base crews and planes out of. However, there are times that passengers would prefer to book a non-stop flight between smaller market airports without having to go to a larger airport that acts as a hub first. For those passengers, Southwest Airlines is perfect since they operate on a point-to-point system.

This works great if you wanted to, for example, fly from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa. That is a short flight that none of the major airlines operate non-stop. In fact, JetBlue would actually fly you up to Boston first! It is only an hour flight but it would save you from an almost 4 hour drive so Southwest makes this an easy choice for many passengers.

This type of network operation is something that helps to make Southwest such a successful airline as it serves the needs of many of their customers with direct options. They do operate hubs like Baltimore, Atlanta, and Phoenix but they also use the point-to-point routing.

What Can Go Wrong With Southwest’s Point-to-Point Routes

While this can be helpful, it can also cause a big headache for passengers if something goes wrong. Here is what happened to me recently.

I was flying from Denver to Spokane, Washington. Only United and Southwest offered non-stop flights and the United one was too early. So, I went with Southwest. It was a flight that was scheduled to arrive in Spokane at 10PM. That was fine as I was just picking up a rental car there and then driving 45 minutes away for a morning meeting the next day. The problem was that the car rental companies closed down at 11PM and all of a sudden, my flight was pushed back to arrive in Spokane at 10:50PM.

southwest's point-to-point

An example of a flight route that ends with Denver to Spokane

What had gone wrong was that the first flight of the day was from Indianapolis and they got hit with a snow storm. That caused the very first flight of that aircraft’s day to be delayed by 90 minutes. That meant every stop throughout the day was to be delayed.

The Route and the Problem

The route for that particular aircraft and flight number that day was – Indianapolis – Washington DC (DCA) – Austin (AUS) – Denver (DEN) – Spokane (GEG). I was on the final segment and my flight ended up arriving in Spokane 5 minutes after the rental car companies were to close. That would have meant I would have needed to use an Uber and pay almost $100 – and still not have a car the next day – or stay at the airport and get a car in the morning when they opened – and that would have more than doubled my rental car price.

All Ended Well

Fortunately, I was able to speak with the counter folks earlier and told them I may arrive right at 11PM and they were so kind to stay open until I got there and got my car (they likely had many more customers on that flight as well). But, it could have gone very wrong for me if they had closed when they were supposed to.

If this has been an airline like United and the aircraft that was to have been used for that flight got in trouble with a snow delay, they could accommodate the aircraft assignment since Denver is a United hub. Weather in Indianapolis – 3 whole stops before Denver – would never have been an issue for United.

While Southwest’s point-to-point network can be a help, it can also hurt! Fortunately, except for my arriving at my final a little over an hour late, it turned out ok this time. But, it did put me in a position to buy up to get boarding pass A1 to insure I would be first off the plane

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • I can’t imagine the rental car counter closing prior to all flights having arrived even those that were delayed. I have been on flights that arrived well past their scheduled time and the rental counters have always stayed open.

  • Agreed with Keith. This is a non-story. As long as you talk to the rental counter, I have always found they stay open. They wouldn’t inconvenience a bunch of customers like that. Also, couldn’t you rent a car from another car rental company that was still open? It looks like a few of them are open until 12:00 or 12:30 AM.

    • No, it was the weekend and all the agencies closed at 11pm – believe me, I was checking for any alternative.
      I did call and they said they would try to stay open but that I should call as soon as I landed. Unfortunately, their phone system automatically went to the “closed” portion since it was after 11pm.
      I have had a rental counter close before when I had caled ahead and arrived 15 minutes late so I did have a past experience to worry me!
      Besides, this post was still to underline a problem with Southwest’s routes as it could happen for anything else and for even lover delays as well. Doesn’t mean they should switch it but it is something passengers should be aware of.

  • and one more thing. I am on a United flight this evening. The plane is already behind, and there is about a 1% chance they will change aircraft at some hub (like SFO) to catch up.