Southwest Outperforming JetBlue, AirTran Where They Go Head-to-Head

Last Updated May 28, 2010 1:28 PM EDT

The Boston to Baltimore route has been absolutely fascinating to watch, and it gives us a unique opportunity to look at how three low cost airlines compete head-to-head. Since last September, low fare giants Southwest (LUV), AirTran, and JetBlue (JBLU) have all been competing here, something that you won't find anywhere else. Who's winning? Southwest.

Last year at this time, only AirTran and Delta (DAL) served the route, but this year, it's a completely different story with JetBlue and Southwest there and Delta long gone. Now that the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has released fourth quarter 2009 data, we can see that Southwest appears to be performing above the pack.

Back in April 2009, Southwest announced that it would enter the Boston to Baltimore market in August. Just a week later, JetBlue decided to fight for Boston by entering the same exact route in September. Delta quickly decided to run away in September, smartly seeing the writing on the wall without waiting around. So, the fourth quarter was our first chance to see how the three low cost carriers fared against each other. Here's how it looks: As you can see, Southwest is filling to most seats and it has the highest average fare of the bunch while JetBlue has the lowest (assuming I've crunched the numbers correctly). Should this surprise us? Maybe a little.

AirTran has been around on this route the longest and flies the route more than anyone else, so it should be doing the best. With that kind of frequency, you'd think it would develop a fare premium. But Southwest has done a great job of goosing its revenues lately. In addition, the airline has a long history in Baltimore and has developed a great deal of loyalty over the years. JetBlue, meanwhile, needs to draw on its strength in Boston, and I would imagine that there are more business travelers going from Baltimore to Boston than vice versa. (This is pure speculation.)

So I might have expected to see AirTran and Southwest flip in the rankings, but I fully expect JetBlue to be sitting at the bottom. Unfortunately, this is a brutally competitive market so the fares are too low even for the top performers, but it does give us a unique opportunity to see what happens when these three go against each other.

Photo via Flickr user jepoirrier