In our 39-year history, there are only two airports from which Southwest Airlines has withdrawn service and never returned. One of those, Detroit City Airport, is an airport that we looked at a few weeks ago. While we don’t currently serve Houston George Bush Intercontinental, we did return once before for a second stay. And, yes, I know we dropped Denver Stapleton, but in the meantime, it was bulldozed so we did return to the only airport serving Denver, Denver International. By the same token, we dropped service to Austin Mueller when service ended there, but we serve its replacement Austin Bergstrom.
The other airport from which we withdrew and never returned is one that may surprise some of our newer Employees because it comprises a brief period in our history. On October 27, 1978, a press release announces that Southwest will begin service to the Jefferson County Airport (BPT) serving Beaumont and Port Arthur in May of 1979 with four nonstops to Dallas Love Field. Then on January 9, 1979, the start date gets moved up to March 5. According to the press release, the station was staffed with 18 Employees plus a Station Manager and Assistant Station Manager. Oddly enough, the advancement in the start date is due to another Southwest historical anomaly: our first use of a 727. This 727 leased from Braniff will free up an existing 737 to operate the BPT service.
On March 5, the airport welcomed our President, Howard Putnam (R), with a breakfast. In the photo above, Jefferson County Judge Richard LeBlanch speaks to the breakfast attendees.
As we have seen in some other airport inaugural ceremonies from this timeperiod, our standard approach was to put out a big buffet for first-day passengers. Flight Attendant Cindy stands ready to help at the table.
Howard Putnam (with lapel flower) stands by with Judge LeBlanch as the ceremonial ribbon is cut. There was another photo in the file envelope of the ceremony but it was a bit out of focus so I didn’t have it scanned. However, in the background was our logo and it was in the same unique script that was carried on our first 727. That raises the question as to whether we were contemplating dropping the block lettering for all of our signage. (I love how finding stuff in the archives can both answer and raise questions.)
My guess is that the flight probably departed BPT late this day due to the festivities because the timetable called for a ten-minute turn. Here we see the marching band from Wilson High School that met the first flight, which is taxiing in the background. From my brief research, I don’t think there is a Wilson High in the BPT area, so did the band come from Woodrow Wilson in Dallas?
The inaugural flight arrived and a crowd of media and well wishers meet the flight. I tried to positively identify the 737-200, using our high-resolution scan but the wing cuts off the bottom portion of the registration number. My best guess is that this is N28SW based on the curve of the second numeral, but it could also be the second N20SW—both airplanes entered our fleet in 1977.
Besides being probably our smallest station, BPT was our shortest-lived station because it closed a little more than a year later on September 5, 1980, and the official reason was “economic reasons.” Between March 5, 1979 and September 5, 1980, Southwest opened New Orleans, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Albuquerque, all bigger markets, and on September 8, just three days later, Southwest returned to Houston Intercontinental. Deregulation and expansion passed BPT by, but it remains an interesting stop on our corporate timeline.