Home » NEWS » Banking & Finance » JACKSON JILTED —Southwest Airlines pulling up stakes and leaving Mississippi

JACKSON JILTED —Southwest Airlines pulling up stakes and leaving Mississippi

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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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.


  1. 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. Delta is not the only carrier remaining in Jackson.

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

  5. 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. 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. Just another reason why Jackson and Mississippi suck.

  8. 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.

  9. Lawanna Revoir

    I flew from Jackson to Houston & Houston to Jackson 4-5 times a month for several years at different times of the day, we were always packed in there like a can of sardines! What more do you want? People sitting on each others lap? Don’t make the people of Mississippi suffer because of your greediness! That’s how other airlines have failed in the past,reoake@att.her

  10. Elizabeth Thoman

    I agree with Lawanna. I have never left here that my Southwest flights were not totally full… And I had begun to really prefer them. It’s already not convenient to fly around the country from Jackson.

  11. This was certainly a political statement made by Southwest Airlines to slight the state of Mississippi. This is not a joke. As to the source of the decision for the exodus, I don’t know yet, exactly. But you can bet your bottom dollar that this decision was made out of contemptuous reasoning. For that reason alone, I will try and avoid booking on Southwest, whenever possible in the future. The fact that Southwest presently serves several markets that consistently rank under JAN in company load factor, proves my suspicion. Not to mention that they shunned GPT, which was an Airtran station when they merged together. They didn’t even whiff at an opportunity to serve another MS airport. I could go on and on, but this is completely political.

    This is a former Southwest employee.

  12. This decision was based on political reasons, and it also serves as a blatant shun to the state of Mississippi by Southwest Airlines. For that reason, I will try to avoid booking on Southwest in the future, if at all possible. I don’t know the exact source of the decision to exit the market, but I can assure you the reasoning was contemptuous in nature. Southwest is now a mega company that has strayed from its original business model, while abandoning its dedication in preserving customer relationships. The fact that Southwest currently serves several markets that yield lower company load factors than JAN, proves the suspicion. I could go on and on, but this is unscrupulous business and makes Mississippi a spectacle to the rest of the country. Thanks, Southwest, you’ve made your statement.

    -From a former Southwest employee.

  13. I have worked for Southwest for many many years and have also lived in the Jackson area. I have been on A LOT of flight from Jackson to Houston, Houston to Jackson and many other routes, I had to do this to commute into work. I myself have noticed a pattern in the declining numbers of passengers on board. There is almost always an average of 30+ seats open. Most of the passengers going into Jackson are usually connecting to go onto a larger city. I can believe that having that many seats open and that many continuing passengers would be a good financial decision to continue service. Southwest is a great company and always takes care of its employees and passengers. It’s a bummer that they have had to cancel Jackson service but is definitely necessary.

  14. There is no doubt that Jackson is one of the most challenging airline markets in the country. Business travel is stagnant and there is zero tourism, making it all the more difficult. However, Southwest never made an attempt to restore the market by advertising, and trying new destinations. In the early years, I have no idea what they what thinking by sticking to the original plan and not doing something different. Southwest could have served Dallas for years, after the Wright Amendment was altered to allow more cites to be added. DAL could have turned out to be a popular route, but maybe the fear going head to head with AA kept them out. But I doubt that. I don’t think they cared enough about Jackson to even bother. Now that the Wright Amendment is history, and Atlanta is a major market for Southwest, they have pulled the plug on Jackson without even trying two of the most important connecting destinations and O/D markets from Jackson. When you look at several of the other smaller markets currently served by Southwest, you have to question their motives for closing the station in Jackson. I don’t think they want to be here.

  15. I moved to Jackson, MS from Chicago, IL about 10 years ago. Having a direct flight from Midway Airport to Jackson-Evers Airport by way of Southwest was ideal for me and my family. All my family is in Chicago, including my medical physicians which I travel every three months for follow up appointments. My mother is 88 years old and could not handle change flights for visits to Jackson (Madison) MS. Southwest use to have 2-3 daily non-stop flights to Chicago. Then it was reduced to one daily non-stop flight, now it none. You could not tell me that Southwest was not making any money with every seat taken during my flights. At times Southwest was asking for someone to give up their seat because of over booking. It’s a shame that Jackson is the largest city in Mississippi, plus the Capitol that Southwest decided to pull out. I’ve meet many people on different flights from Chicago to Jackson, and Jackson to Chicago stating they are very displeased about Southwest decision to pull out of Jackson. It seems that we are being punished. There is no decent fare flight for us Jacksonians. I went online for pricing. American, United and other airlines what $400, $500, $600 and $700 for a round trip to Chicago with anywhere between 1 to 2 flights changes with up to 1 hour to 7 hours layover. This is ridiculous. It’s only 700 miles from Jackson to Chicago, why travel to Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, North Carolina and other out of the way places to get to Chicago. I have a friend who lives in McGee, MS who is elderly and need assistance when travelling to Chicago can no longer travel. Her Grandson with mild learning disability cannot travel because of changing planes. So if I’m complaining, there must be thousands with the same problems of travel. I hope Southwest change their minds and at least offer one or two non-stop flights a week. We settle for that. I believe these flights will be so full, you have to make reservations 3-6 months in advance.

  16. I just tried to book flights in August 2014 to my dismay. I called Southwest and found out no more flights out of Jackson, MS. My business partners and I carry Southwest Credit Cards and have for years. I am going have all of my partners and I to give up our Credit Cards. I know they need more money, but throwing away customers is not growing a bank account.

  17. It’s a shame but Southwest will never be back here. In fact, MS is about to be the only southeastern state without Southwest, and one of only a handful of states in the entire country without their service. That’s embarrassing and ridiculous! Southwest currently serves Portland, Maine, Corpus Christi TX, and Harlingen, TX, the latter two I know for a fact are low yielding stations..but they aren’t losing service. Why is Jackson different??

    Losing service to Houston Hobby is going to effect many local travelers. Houston is the one of, if not the top business travel destination from Jackson. There are also many travelers that have relied on Southwest’s Houston Hobby service because of their medical treatment needs at nearby M.D. Anderson medical center. Now these folks will have to ride from Houston Intercontinental airport 30 miles away through big city traffic to get there. The alternative is drive 500 miles.

    Again, thanks Southwest for making life harder for Mississippians who already go through enough snubbing and ridicule from everyone else about how we never progress and how we lag behind the rest of the country. -Thanks a lot

  18. In response to:

    “Erin Says:
    December 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Just another reason why Jackson and Mississippi suck.”

    Unbelievable someone would make an ignorant comment like this. Mississippi is a wonderful State. I grew up in Omaha, NE and my first military duty station was in MS & I fell in love with it. The people are friendly & very easy to make friends with. Plus, there is a TON of history in the State & beautiful places to see. I don’t know where you live, Erin, but it must be in snobville where you are ignorant to the rest of the nation.

  19. ResentedTraveller

    Oh please, “not having enough customers” is a LOAD of BS! There will always be people flying from Jackson to Houston, especially college students! I’ve flown Southwest out of Jackson to Houston along with at least 50 other students every holiday AND paid their ridiculously high thanksgiving and Christmas rates because I had luggage with me. Not to mention if MS is offering them incentives to stay, I doubt they could be losing that much. And like others said, every time I flew on southwest regardless to where it was and when it was, they were always full! In fact, I scored three vouchers from southwest because they were always overbooked going from Houston to Jackson so I exchanged my seat for a later flight… There is no way you can ever convince me that southwest didn’t have enough customers when I flew on “dead days” and flights were still 90-99% full… This is simply about maximizing profits by flying to bigger cities. Given the choice between maintaining profit and being a good company vs. Going after big money and leaving MS in dumps, it chose later. Thanks Southwest for not giving a crap about MS.

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