Southwest claims credit for the growth at BWI Discount airline more than quadruples flights since arriving in 1993

Airlines

May 20, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Herbert D. Kelleher of Southwest Airlines linked the destinies of the carrier and Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday, telling a marketing group that a growing number of passengers landing at the airport is a testament to the carrier's own growth.

"It's no accident that traffic at BWI was in decline before Southwest opened here, and within five years BWI has the second highest passenger market share in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area," said Kelleher, chairman, chief executive and president of Southwest, the second largest airline at BWI.

Kelleher was the keynote speaker at the 13th annual meeting of the BWI Business Partnership Inc., a nonprofit group that markets the airport and its surrounding 80-square-mile business district.

Since its arrival at BWI in September 1993, Southwest's discount fares have forced down ticket prices and helped lure thousands to the airport. The company has more than quadrupled its number of flights to 53 a day, with service to more than a dozen cities.

The Dallas-based airline is in the midst of planning a $73 million expansion at the airport that could lead to more than 150 flights a day for the carrier.

Plans call for a two-story extension of Pier B that adds 10 gates. Construction could begin this fall, with completion expected within 18 months.

Such moves earned Southwest the BWI Business District's "Business of the Year" award, said Neil Shpritz, executive director of the partnership.

"A lot of firms locate in the BWI Business District because they want to be near the airport either for travel or cargo," Shpritz said. "It's no secret that Southwest has been fabulous for the area and is helping us to grow faster."

BWI is the primary economic force of the business district, and the airline industry is one of the area's dominant employers. The airport handled record volumes in 1997, Shpritz said. Nearly 14.1 million passengers used the facility, and 354.1 million pounds of freight moved through the airport, the partnership reported.

Southwest has grown because its employees pay attention to customer service, Kelleher told about 200 at the annual meeting. "Customer service isn't a formula you can write on a board," he said. "It's a giant mosaic where you plug in what's missing.

"We don't need fancy marketing surveys because customers will tell us what's wrong," Kelleher said. "In the competitive world, a company will succeed or fail based on what customers want."

The airline's theory may be put to the test next month when US Airways launches its discount MetroJet service at BWI.

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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