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.
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…