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Southwest launches $39 flights as coronavirus stalls travel

Shawn M. Carter

Southwest Airlines is offering $39 flights as part of its fall-fare sale, an annual initiative it hopes this year will entice would-be travelers to fly as U.S. states ease coronavirus shutdowns.

The carrier, whose shares were up 1 percent Tuesday but down 31 percent on the year, typically launches two yearly sales, in June and October. Starting fares this time around are lower than in previous years given reduced travel demand amid the pandemic.

“Our focus is on supporting the comfort and wellbeing of Customers with the Southwest Promise,” Southwest Vice President of Marketing Bill Tierney said in a statement. “The Southwest Promise is our commitment to add an extra layer of comfort for Employees and Customers, encompassing our cleaning practices and physical-distancing measures and additional procedures such as face mask requirements and open middle seats on Southwest aircraft.”

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One-way fares will start at $39 versus $49 last year. For longer flights, tickets start around $79 and $99 each way but fluctuate based on the location and date.

Here’s what the airline advertised:

  • As low as $39 one-way nonstop between Houston and New Orleans
  • As low as $39 one-way nonstop between Burbank and Las Vegas
  • As low as $79 one-way nonstop between Baltimore and Jacksonville
  • As low as $99 one-way nonstop between Houston and Fort Lauderdale

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The three-day sale usually covers flights between Aug. 11 and Dec. 17, excluding travel around Thanksgiving. The catch: Sale fares are generally not available on Fridays and Sundays, and more weekdays are also blacked out to and from hotspots like Florida and Las Vegas.

The announcement comes at the same time Southwest, and the airline industry overall, look to find ways to operate in the outbreak. Southwest on Monday prolonged buyout packages and temporary paid leaves to workers in what the company said is meant to "ensure survival."

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A May report said that despite averaging fewer than two dozen passengers per domestic flight, U.S. airlines are collectively burning more than $10 billion in cash per month. In a prepared testimony from Airlines for America, seen by Reuters, the group said even after grounding nearly 50 percent of the active U.S. fleet, its member carriers, including the four largest U.S. airlines, are averaging just 17 passengers per domestic flight.

Southwest, along with other major airlines, also announced extensive virus-safety measures, such as leaving middle seats open through Sept. 30.

“While we weather the current business climate, today and every day, we're working as hard as we can to be ready for a rebound and welcome travelers back to the skies with the warmth and hospitality they've come to know and love about Southwest,” Andrew Watterson, Southwest's executive vice president and chief commercial officer, said in a previous statement.

Shares for the airline have dropped 7 percent in the last three months.

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