Economic Development, Government, and Travel & Tourism

Southwest Airlines arrives at Ford International Airport

February 4, 2013
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Southwest might land at airport next year
Airports served by Southwest Airlines tend to see lower fares and increased passenger traffic — a result dubbed “The Southwest Effect” by The U.S. Department of Transportation. © iStockphoto.com

Gerald R. Ford International Airport announced this morning that Southwest Airlines will begin offering service to and from the airport — beginning on Aug. 11.

Southwest Airlines, the largest low-cost carrier, will convert wholly owned subsidiary AirTran Airways to the Southwest brand and double the service capacity at the airport. Southwest will offer six non-stop daily flights — up from three original AirTran flights — with Denver, St. Louis, Orlando and Baltimore serving as destinations.

“These service enhancements essentially provide business and leisure travelers with access to the entire Southwest network,” said Brian Ryks, executive director of GRFIA. “The result of the new Southwest service will be more flight options, to and from more locations, at more competitive rates. Bottom line: This will make it easier for travelers to get where they want to go.”

The airport and other stakeholders within the West Michigan community have tried to attract Southwest since 2006. Often criticized for being “too expensive,” the airport expects that Southwest’s presence will lead to more competitive rates for travelers and, therefore, increased use of the airport.

“We’ve watched with some concern as the number of airlines serving Grand Rapids has shrunk during the last several years,” Mayor George Heartwell said. “So this is a phenomenally important step for us to get Southwest Airlines, the premier low-cost airline in the country, in here.

"It will not only open up new markets to us, but will have a tendency to drive down fares with other airlines as well, as they compete," Heartwell said. "So I think it is only good news for West Michigan.”

The Grand Rapids Business Journal spoke with a traveler waiting for his flight following the announcement who agreed that the Southwest Airlines news is phenomenal.

Rod Ruhf said he travels about four to five times per year, more often for business, and he does compare rates with what is available at other airports, including Lansing and Muskegon. He expects the addition of Southwest may entice him to use Ford Airport more often and may even allow him to increase his travels.

“I think the growth is phenomenal,” said Ruhf of the airport. “It basically reflects, again, how Grand Rapids is growing not only in the business sector, but in people traveling in general. I think it’s a positive thing.”

Southwest Airlines and AirTran serve a combined 97 destinations in 41 states, as well as six neighboring countries.

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