Fluffy white clouds dotted the blue sky early on the morning of April 14, as Southwest Airlines made its grand entrance at Flint’s Bishop International Airport. “LUV is in the air in Flint, Michigan,” said a smiling Ron Ricks, Executive Vice President of Southwest Airlines, as he eagerly awaited the landing of the airline’s inaugural flight into Bishop.
A crowd gathered on the tarmac to watch as Southwest Flight No. 1250 touched down at about 10:30 am, escorted by three corvettes in the airline’s signature colors of blue, red and orange. The plane was greeted with wild applause as it made its way through an arch formed by a double water cannon salute from two fire trucks.
Ricks cites AirTran Airways as the foundation for Southwest’s new service at BIA. “Our arrival in Flint represents one of the benefits of our integration with AirTran Airways, allowing us to bring low fares and legendary customer service to the people of Flint,” Ricks said. Southwest Airlines will provide nonstop service to Baltimore/Washington D.C., as well as to Tampa and Orlando, Florida. In the near future, the airline will also begin nonstop service to Las Vegas.
Local dignitaries, community members, airport staff and their friends welcomed the new airline with a ceremony at Gate 9, mingling with travelers who awaited departing flights. Brightly colored balloon bouquets and arrangements of brilliant blue, red and orange flowers, a treat-laden table with pink shrimp on ice and cool drinks all gave the occasion a festive air. Airport Director Jim Rice welcomed Southwest Airlines, saying, “I consider Southwest to be the industry’s top airline. We are truly blessed to have them serving Bishop International Airport.” He promised the airline, “Our community will support you and we will grow together.” Mike McNamara, chairman of the Bishop International Airport Authority, also welcomed the airline. “We look forward to having Southwest here to expand our services,” he said.
Genesee County Commissioner, Jamie Curtis, said Southwest Airlines is “just plain smart” to establish nonstop service to Baltimore/Washington D.C., Tampa, and Orlando, praising the airline for its ‘Bags Fly Free’ policy. “Congratulations to Southwest and Bishop on your partnership. We know you will have great success,” he said. J. David VanderVeen, chairman of Michigan Aeronautics Commission, also spoke, proclaiming, “This is a landmark day.” He pointed out that, with the addition of Southwest Airlines, there are now ten direct flights to 60 cities from Flint, giving Flint travelers access to the entire East Coast. He also pointed out that Southwest is the country’s largest low-cost carrier. “We are getting a good deal, folks,” VanderVeen said. “Southwest is known for thinking outside the box.”
As Ricks addressed the attendees, announcements of a departing flight could be heard. “We have an on-time policy at Southwest Airlines,” he said to the cheering group. He told the crowd that the policy is so strict, “We have to interrupt [the festivities]to allow our passengers to board.” Ricks said the airline is thrilled to provide Michigan residents access to more destinations, while also giving travelers nationwide better access to Flint. “We connect people to what’s important in their lives,” Ricks said.
About Bishop International Airport
Bishop International Airport is a commercial and general aviation airport located in Flint. It is named after banker and General Motors Board Member, Arthur Giles Bishop, who donated 220 acres of his farmland for the airport in 1928. Michigan’s third busiest airport, it served 938,914 passengers in 2011.
About Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) is now America’s largest low-fare carrier, serving more customers domestically than any other airline, with a combination of low fares, no annoying fees, friendly customer service, safe and reliable operations and an extraordinary corporate culture that extends into the communities they serve. Year-end financial results for 2012 marked Southwest’s 40th consecutive year of profitability. On May 2, 2011, Southwest acquired Orlando-based AirTran Airways, and expects to complete the integration of the two airlines by 2015.
PHOTOS BY TRACI TURNER