Airlines serving the market were content with the status quo, which was highly lucrative and not necessarily traveler-friendly, says Joyce Rogge, 41, VP-marketing with the airline.
"We saw that as a true advantage for us," says Ms. Rogge.
So like the airline had done throughout the Western U.S., Southwest sought to shake it up.
Southwest introduced frequent flights from popular airports with a fleet of 737 jets, simple "ticketless" travel and a perky attitude targeting executives and tourists alike. The result has been to drag competing-though reluctant-airlines along for the ride.
On those Florida routes Southwest serves, air traffic to and from those cities-including that of rival airlines-has increased 238%, and passenger fares have dropped 56%, according to Ms. Rogge.
The average fare between Fort Lauderdale and Tampa before Southwest began the route was $104; today it's $49, she says, boasting, "We call that the `Southwest effect.' "
While competing airlines might bemoan the drop in fares, they cannot argue the overall result upon air traffic. "We get people out of the car. We grow the market for everyone," she says.
In 1996, Southwest entered Tampa with 12 daily flights and Fort Lauderdale with six. Today, they're up to 29 and 23, respectively.
Working with ad shop GSD&M, Austin, Southwest developed its "Freedom" theme with the tagline "You are now free to move about the country." That principle highlights safety, on-time records and the airline's "positively outrageous service," says Ms. Rogge.
"Freedom" has done more than target business and leisure travelers, it has empowered the company's message, she says.
"While we target every segment, our message is relevant to all of them," she says, "and that gives us freedom in our advertising."