Southwest's Wichita-Chicago route is a loser

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WICHITA, Kan. — Southwest Airlines lost nearly $7 million in its first eight months of offering flights from Wichita to Dallas and Chicago, while its service from Wichita to Las Vegas made a modest profit.

Southwest was able to recoup most of its $6.8 million loss through the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program, which allows it to collect up to $6.5 million a year in revenue guarantees.

The airline accepted the full amount from the program — $4.75 million from a state grant and $1.75 million from Wichita and Sedgwick counties.

Without the program, Southwest could leave Wichita at some point in favor of more lucrative markets, said Robert Mann, an airline analyst with R.W. Mann & Co. But he also noted that Southwest’s routes should do better over time.

The airline is expanding its routes this month because of the forthcoming expiration of the Wright Amendment, which required airlines flying from Dallas Love Field to make an extra stop in Texas or a nearby state before traveling to another destination. It was intended to help the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, which was new when the restriction took effect.

Between July 2013 and February 2014, Southwest earned a profit of $57,600 off flights from Wichita to Las Vegas, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Dan Landson, a Southwest spokesman, declined to comment on specific routes or dollar figures, but said the airline is working to develop a self-sustaining operation in Wichita.

“What we are seeing is a progressive build on the traffic during the first year of service,” Landson said. “When you start service, there is a little bit of a learning curve just in general.”

Airline consultant Mike Boyd of the Boyd Group isn’t optimistic though about airline service staying long-term in Wichita.

“They’re not in the business of being Mother Teresa,” Boyd said. “They have to have those airplanes where they make money.”

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