Southwest Airlines will discontinue direct flights between Spokane and Seattle in January, reducing passenger choices in getting to the West Coast air corridor.
The announcement is part of a cost-cutting package of schedule changes that will result in 102 fewer flights for the nationwide carrier.
Southwest’s two inbound flights from Seattle and two companion departures from Spokane are being cut, leaving no direct service to Seattle on Southwest.
Spokane passengers will still be able to get to Southwest destinations through Portland and other hub cities such as Denver and Phoenix. Southwest also is maintaining service from Spokane to Boise, Oakland and Las Vegas.
The changes were announced Monday for the period from Jan. 8 through March 9, 2012.
Airline officials said the shifts in capacity of the Southwest system are due to a seasonal slowing of demand during the winter and an effort to match the supply of routes and seats to passenger needs.
They also described the moves as “a continued pruning of unproductive flying due to high fuel costs.”
Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Southwest, said the change represents a shift in resources to maximize efficiency.
“The economics of the flight weren’t working for us,” Hawkins said.
Expansion of service from Denver in recent years has been an advantage for Spokane passengers because it provides new connections to U.S. destinations. Southwest has 140 daily flights out of Denver.
Todd Woodard, spokesman for Spokane International Airport, said, “Obviously we are disappointed.”
He said that leaves Alaska Air/Horizon Airlines as the only carrier serving Seattle directly from Spokane. Alaska/Horizon is continuing its 20 daily flights between the two cities.
Spokane airport officials have asked Alaska Air Group to consider increasing service to and from Seattle to absorb the extra potential demand.
Spokane was not alone in the Southwest cuts. Boise lost its Seattle service along with cuts in service to Reno and Salt Lake City. Similar cuts were made to routes around the country.
Woodard said the flights being lost amount to 4 percent of total departures from Spokane and 5 percent of seats into and out of Spokane.
Southwest apparently is having a hard time filling airplanes, Woodard said. Reports show they had operated at 54 percent capacity and that about half of those passengers travel only between Spokane and Seattle and don’t catch connecting flights.
Woodard said he does not expect fares to increase because Alaska/Horizon must still compete with the automobile.