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Southwest Rescues Twin Cities from Northwest Monopoly

The Twin Cities have enjoyed fleeting affairs with budget airlines in the past. AirTran provided dirt cheap flights between MSP and Chicago (as low as $59 one-way) for several years. When they left, fares rose considerably. For many people flying out of Minnesota, Northwest is the only game in town. A search on the major booking web sites last week turned up fares of over $500 between MSP and O'Hare. In short, Northwest has travelers trapped in a corner and seems intent on extracting as much money. Sporadic service by budget carriers like Sun Country has done little to alter the trend of high prices. But a deal between Twin Cities Int'l and Southwest Airlines will bring some significant change to the air travel market next year.

Minneapolis has been courting Southwest for some time now. The flirtation got hot and heavy earlier this year, but it took until now to iron out the details. The deal will make Minneapolis the envy of mid-sized markets across the US currently held hostage by a single major carrier.

What exactly is Southwest going to bring?
Southwest will bring competition that will completely change the air travel game in the northern Midwest. Southwest is known for its cheap fares and frequent special offers. In order to compete, Northwest and others will have to drop fares. The first Southwest flights from MSP will be to Chicago-Midway (8 per day). From Midway, the airline flies non-stop to 47 cities. Perhaps the plane change will not be a turn on for convenience freaks. But for budget travel aficionados, deals like $59 from Chicago to Detroit and $127 to Vegas are hard to pass up, especially when similar routes now cost three or four times that. In addition, Southwest does not charge for extra checked baggage like Northwest currently does.

Minnesotans will have to wait until next spring for the first Southwest jet to take off. Flights will depart from the MSP's Humphrey Terminal, a smaller terminal located behind the airport's main Lindbergh terminal. But, it will be worth the wait for many. As Tom Parsons, owner of bestfares.com, recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Southwest saw high prices...they could come in and drop your prices like a rock."

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