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Flashback Fridays–Southwest Airlines Tiniest Airport

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In our 39-year history, there are only two airports from which Southwest Airlines has withdrawn service and never returned.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.

18 Comments

  1. Just as a point of information, the judge’s last name is LeBlanc (no “h” on the end), a well-known family name in Beaumont, where I was reared. I went to school with several members of the LeBlanc family and remember the era when Richard was the county judge.

    I also remember the very brief time period when BPT had Southwest service. Some years prior to the arrival of Southwest, BPT had been very excited to have jet service from Delta and Texas International, because we were used to only getting the most ancient props. In 1967, the biggest plane to fly into BPT was a DC-6, and jet service didn’t start until many years later.

    I thought Southwest’s arrival meant BPT was finally getting recognized as a growing metropolis, but I was wrong and so was Southwest, so the decision to pull out was probably wise. Not long after deregulation took hold, BPT pretty much lost all of its scheduled commercial service–and the jets were the first to depart. Now, it’s back to props.

  2. Thanks for posting! I enjoy reading more about SWA’s history (I have the book, NUTS! & have read it so much the first 80 pages fell out, so I have to tape them back in!). Do you think you could post some pictures from SWA’s earlier days in TUL? I forgot what things looked like then.

    SWA LUV! :)

    Happy birthday to me! :)

  3. Great research!

  4. Over the weekend, we received an e-mail from Howard Putnam, and he offers some additional insight into our decision to serve and withdraw from BPT.

    “The decision to enter Beaumont/Port Arthur had been made before I arrived at SWA on August 21, 1978, and it was about the only remaining viable market within the state of Texas that we didn’t serve. This was before deregulation in December 1978 and we couldn’t go interstate yet. The problem with Beaumont turned out to be that it was it was only 90 miles from IAH which had a much greater offering of service and folks were used to driving. So we cut our losses and got out.

    “The one and only B-727 from Braniff (later we did lease six 727s from PeopleExpress) was a part of the anti trust settlement with them when they were nailed by the justice department for trying to put SWA out of business at Love Field. We decided to do it, since all we had to pay were operating costs, to see if a 2nd fleet type would work. It did not. It also had 155 seats vs. 118 on the 737-200′s and we could not do a ten minute turn with a full load. Braniff gave us one of their oldest 727′s and it was a mechanical nightmare. So we returned the airplane a few months early. As I recall, we had it less than a year.

    “The paint job on the 727, was just an experiment on that airplane, to keep it different from the rest of the fleet.

    “On March 26 or 27 of 1980, we took delivery of 3 aircraft all on the same day and flew them home in formation (so to speak) with a lot of employees on board. It was a great day and the board of directors were all there at Boeing Field as well. So on April 1 one airplane opened service DAL-TUL, April 2, DAL-OKC, and April 3, DAL-ABQ. All were profitable within 45 days as I recall.

    Regards,

    Regards,

    Howard Putnam”

  5. I am NOT NUTS over Southwest Airlines…………………
    ….Most of the time, I AM.
    Lately I find you rude and NOT… the FUN airlines, I used to know. I want the old boss BACK!
    TELL MR. K.
    SINCERELY,
    David Koester

  6. Ah, these black and white photos bring back memories. Young people, under 55, probably have never had the experience of walking onto the field to board a prop airplane, only to ascend a very narrow set of steps. Even tho SW does not fly into Bush Airport, we don’t mind Hobby, which is only 45 minutes away from my family. With all the cutbacks and extra charges, ie luggage, give me Southwest anyday! You are treated as family. What other airline will not charge you for changing flights; NONE!! Money is never lost, but kept as credit for future flights! This might give the large airlines food for thought!!!! LOVE YOU SOUTHWEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ruthie McD

  7. WE LOVE YOU, SOUTHWEST……..Many of the “other” airlines, which we no longer fly, for over 15 years!!! ARE RUDE & INDIGNENT! You guys are great & GET US THERE SAFELY.
    And your rewards program is the GREATEST! & you do not have to pay to transfer a Free Flight to anyone…….ASK THE OTHER AIRLINES~~ ABOUT THEIR RIP OFF ON THIS!!!

  8. “Fly Southwest, just say when” the slogan in the mid 80′s. I flew into DET in 1990 and found it much more enjoyable than DTW.