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Southwest Returns to San Francisco

Southwest (LUV - Get Report) says it will resume flights this fall to San Francisco International Airport, joining a bevy of low-cost carriers that have recognized the airport's improved operating environment.

Southwest, which abandoned the airport in 2001, said Friday it is talking with airport officials and "aims to return to the West Bay in a meaningful way in the early fall." It hasn't released service details.

"San Francisco International is the only major Bay Area airport we don't currently serve, having made a very difficult decision in 2001 to cease service there after nearly 20 years," said CEO Gary Kelly, in a prepared statement. "Today, SFO has improved operationally and is a more cost-efficient airport."

In the past year, San Francisco flights have been added by AirTran (AAI), Frontier (FRNT) and privately held Spirit Airlines.

The moves have partially reversed a trend in which low-fare carriers flocked to Oakland International Airport. San Francisco, meanwhile, has remained the third-biggest hub for United Airlines (UAUA), with premium international service and higher fares.

But the airport has sought to reverse its high costs and to reduce the likelihood that bad weather would impact operations.

"San Francisco has made a lot of changes," said aviation consultant Bob Mann. "Costs have gone down as airport management has tightened its belt."

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