JACKSON JILTED —Southwest Airlines pulling up stakes and leaving Mississippi

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Central Mississippi’s airline travel choices sustained a severe blow Thursday with an announcement by Southwest Airlines that it will cease flight service at Jackson-Medgar Evers International on June 7.

Company spokesman Brad Hawkins said years of charting passenger counts at Jackson’s airport led to a conclusion the service was no longer financially worthwhile. “We saw waning demand for Southwest service in the local market,” he said, emphasizing the flight passenger numbers fell significantly below Southwest’s expectations for a sustained period.

“It really just comes down to the numbers. We can’t continue to operate in such a challenging environment,” said Hawkins, who acknowledged that with the merger with Atlanta-based AirTran that the carrier that once catered to second-tier markets is growing with an eye toward the nation’s largest markets.

“We are definitely focused on the larger cities. It’s where the profitability sustains our ability to serve more markets.”

Jackson, a Southwest destination since 1997, is the only legacy market Southwest is leaving. The airline said it will cease service in June to Key West, Fla., and Branson, Mo., both markets formerly served by AirTran.

No other current Southwest destinations are slated for closure, Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he could not say with certainty that Southwest would decline to consider incentives from Jackson and other Mississippi government entities to reverse its decision, but voiced doubt the airline would change its mind. “You never say never, but I think this is a structural and significant change” Southwest is making, he said.

The airline’s 37 employees at Jackson International will be offered jobs elsewhere in the company. Southwest will not book flights to or from Jackson after June 7, he said.

“We appreciate the 16-year relationship that the airport, City of Jackson and the State of Mississippi enjoyed with Southwest and its employees,” Jackson Municipal Airport Authority CEO Dirk Vanderleest said. “Recognizing during difficult times, business plans need to be adjusted to ensure the highest levels of success, we understand that this choice was difficult but necessary.”

Vanderleest went on to say that this event does not result in the elimination of air service access to any metro area served by the Jackson airport.

Jackson will lose direct air service to Houston-Hobby, Chicago-Midway (but retains flights to O’Hare) and Orlando, Fla.

“This is not surprising in light of the challenges facing the airlines industry in general and Southwest in particular,” said Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, a consulting firm that has worked with the Jackson airport for several years. “They recently acquired AirTran Airways, and are finding it necessary to rework their routes and reduce the total number of airliners they are flying.”

“The fact is,” Vanderleest said, “that when Southwest acquired AirTran, they ceased being a low-cost carrier. They now have to make more money.”

It is a sad day for the Jackson airport, he conceded, but said this is truly an opportunity to bring in airlines to Jackson that previously would not entertain the thought for fear of competing with Southwest.

Delta Airlines, American Airlines, which is about to merge with U.S. Air, and United Airlines remain the only carriers in Jackson.

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8 Responses to “JACKSON JILTED —Southwest Airlines pulling up stakes and leaving Mississippi”

  1. William Says:

    Actually, I think what’s going on here is that the Wright Amendment (which restricts flights out of Dallas Love Field, Southwest’s home base, to states bordering Texas and a few others) ends in October 2014, and Southwest will be starting a large number of flights from DAL to cities they previously have not been allowed to serve. Plus, thanks to US/AA merger, slots are opening up at Reagan National in DC and LaGuardia in New York that Southwest wants to pursue. Those flights will all require planes – which means marginal markets like Jackson, Branson and Key West (and maybe 2-3 others) are being dropped completely to free up equipment.

  2. Darryl Says:

    Delta is not the only carrier remaining in Jackson.

  3. William Says:

    Also, Delta is far from the only carrier in Jackson – do you mean the only carrier with mainline service as opposed to regional jets?

  4. Dennis Says:

    United presently has a direct flight to Chicago Ohare from Jackson.

  5. Tom Says:

    this is truly an opportunity to bring in airlines to Jackson that previously would not entertain the thought for fear of competing with Southwest.

    Please name the airlines that are now considering Jackson now that Southwest is out of the picture – who is left?

  6. Carl Says:

    The ONLY reason why Southworst (Southwest) bought Air Tran was to get into LGA and DCA slot controlled airport in the first place. Talk about a criminally run airline if you tell me!

  7. Erin Says:

    Just another reason why Jackson and Mississippi suck.

  8. Peter Corum Says:

    This is from the press release when they decided to serve Key
    West in November of 2012:

    “Our arrival in Key West represents one of the true benefits
    of our integration with AirTran Airways, allowing us to continue to bring low
    fares and legendary Customer Service to the Florida Keys,” said Kevin Krone,
    Southwest Airlines Vice President Marketing, Sales, and Distribution. “Key West
    is a destination our Customers have been eagerly awaiting.”

    Customers were eager, and filled the planes to make SWA well
    on their way to being the #1 carrier to Key West in only their second year of
    service…and they say no profitability? I always thought Southwest was
    different, that they meant what they said about really becoming a part of the
    community, to build a loyal customer base and offer continued good fares and
    service . Maybe one day we will read from their press release page that they have
    merged with United or joined the American/Former USAir group, because of actions
    like these, that’s where they are headed. Speaking of the American/USAir
    merger, is it a surprise that the same day they announced their cancellation of
    service to KW, they picked up more slots in NY City? Dumping the smaller cities for the big ones. So much for being different that the rest. That press release may be coming faster than we think.

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