If a picture is worth a thousand words, this brief story is worth telling. When Southwest founder and retired chairman, president and CEO Herb Kelleher was studying PSA (Pacific Southwest Airlines) he left with a page from the defunct airline’s playbook. Namely, how to create a company from scratch that was fun, favored quick turnarounds of 15 to 20 minutes to maximize cash flow, and keeping costs and fares low. From an auspicious start of three Boeing 737-200 aircraft to more than 500 today (a blend of 737-300’s, 737-700’s and 737-800’s) Southwest is the largest domestic U.S. Airline measured in terms of passengers boarded. Incidentally, the Boeing 737-300’s will be retired by this September. The airline, as you may have guessed is a dedicated 737-only operator, thus saving costs with parts and operations for one tyope of aircratft only.
The carrier grew organically, that is, from internal growth with two exceptions: the acquisition of Muse Air–the nation’s first “No Smoking” airline that was soon shut down, and Morris Air — a competitor that operated the same aircraft and business plan as Southwest.
At the largely abandoned Dallas Love Field Airport, where all competing airlines were contractually bound to move operations to the immense Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Kelleher (who is an attorney) spent the first four years battling efforts by competitors seeking to stop the airline from getting started at all. Kelleher and Southwest prevailed and remained domiciled in the decades long crumbling airport that is today a world-class renovated facility. Gone too is the “organic growth” strategy, as AirTran Airlines was absorbed by Southwest in 2014 and fully integrated in 2016.
The pictures above were taken at Dayton International Airport in Ohio — a holdover from the Air Tran acquisition. However, the small airport limited Southwest’s operations. Moreover, there was a wonderful opportunity in Cincinnati, where Delta Air Lines (yes, that is how Delta spells their name) downsized its presence at Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Delta once boasted 710 departures a day and reduced that slate to 68, then downgraded Cincinnati from a hub to a spoke. More bad news arrived as the aggressive Delta deliberately shut down the once proud regional carrier Comair after 35 years. That airline acquired for $2 billion in 1999 and closed down after 13 years, combined with Delta’s downsizing after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and merging with Northwest Airlines cost over 8,900 jobs in Cincinnati. The once mighty airport earmarked two of its three terminals for demolition, then consolidated its sole terminal with a full remodeling. The Category III runways and lack of any significant service was just too good of an opportunity for Southwest officials to pass on. With this in mind, on June 4, 2017 Southwest will move its operations from Dayton to Cincinnati and begin flights to Chicago and Baltimore. In the opinion of this author, there is an unprecedented pent-up demand for air travel to Southwest’s route system — particularly to Florida points and beyond. Look for Cincinnati to become the next success story as we saw when Trans World Airlines was purchased and liquidated by American Airlines in 2001, leaving St. Louis Lambert International to rot. Cincinnati will be another “rising from the ashes story” as Southwest will, predictably, add a large stable of routes throughout the U.S. Low Fares, Low Costs, Legendary Customer Service and a truly “fun” travel experience is quite the opposite of crammed seats and passengers being nickeled and dimed to death by the likes of Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit Airlines — superseded only by the Greyhound Bus. Cincinnati has been in decline as a city for many years. Southwest’s arrival on the scene in Hebron, Kentucky where the airport is physically based will surely become a game changer!