Southwest.com, already the dominant airline website in the U.S., could be getting a lot more website traffic now that United and Continental airlines agreed to transfer to Southwest 36 slots at Newark Airport.
Those coveted slots at Newark Airport amounted to a "principal competition concern" of the U.S. Justice Department, which completed its review of the United-Continental merger.
"The proposed merger would combine the airlines’ largely complementary networks, which would result in overlap on a limited number of routes where United and Continental offer competing nonstop service," the DOJ stated.
"The largest such routes are between United’s hub airports and Continental’s hub at Newark airport, where Continental has a high share of service and where there is limited availability of slots, making entry by other airlines particularly difficult.
"The transfer of slots and other assets at Newark to Southwest, a low cost carrier that currently has only limited service in the New York metropolitan area and no Newark service, resolves the department’s principal competition concerns and will likely significantly benefit consumers on overlap routes as well as on many other routes."
With a beefed-up presence in the New York area, Southwest is bound to reap some significant business gains. The slot deal, which is contingent on the United-Continental merger closing by Nov. 30, 2010, would give Southwest the right to operate up to 18 daily roundtrip flights at Newark, with some beginning as soon as March 2011.
Southwest.com already was the most popular U.S. airline website for the weeks ending Aug. 7 and Aug. 21 with 23.13% and 21.06% of visits, respectively, according to Experian Hitwise data.
With 18 more takeoff and landing slots at busy Newark Airport, Southwest may have to buy a few more servers for its website to handle increased traffic.
With the Justice Dept. now having no objections to the merger, the next hurdle for the would-be merged airlines is their respective stockholder-ratification votes Sept. 17.
The deal is expected to close by Oct. 1, United and Continental state.
Meanwhile, the Justice Dept. is now reviewing the Google-ITA Software deal out of competition concerns.
It will be interesting to see if DOJ gets Google-ITA to make some Southwest-like concessions to opponents.