Kasim Reed’s Bet on Southwest

Kasim Reed’s Bet on Southwest

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These days, no elected official should be too busy to celebrate economic success in their community. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was no different when he paid a visit to the city’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport recently

Reed was on hand to welcome the long-awaited arrival of discount carrier Southwest Airlines to the airport. The Dallas-based airline announced the acquisition of AirTran Airways in May 2011, allowing them to enter the Atlanta market. The mayor was joined for a news conference by other high profile officials including Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson – all Republicans.

“Southwest Airlines will significantly expand the tradition of excellent customer service and low fares that we have come to expect from AirTran Airways over the past 15 years,” the Mayor said in a written statement.

“Hartsfield-Jackson Airport prides itself on serving more than 92 million passengers every year, and Southwest’s presence will further assure our airport remains as the busiest passenger airport on the planet,” Reed added.

Southwest expects to operate 175-200 flights daily out of the airport. Replacing AirTran in Atlanta ensures the city’s viability as a hub and final destination for thousands of flights throughout the year.

As of 2011, Hartsfield-Jackson was the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger volume, landings and takeoffs. It is also a major economic engine for the entire Southeast U.S. In the politicians’ minds, this translates into travel and tourism dollars, as well as corporate money continually flowing through the airport and into the region.

For Reed, the merger is welcome in his city. As he raises his national profile among Democrats, the mayor can continually point to successes in Atlanta that show how companies are making investments in the city.  This will get the pundits and insiders whispering for the next few years.  Reed for Governor?  Who knows?  Maybe that’s too small and statewide.  Reed for Senate?  That’s a possibility.  But, it’s a tough call for a Southern state that leans conservative outside of Atlanta.  But, it explains Reed’s consistent agenda as a business-friendly fiscal conservative willing to make risky political decisions with the city’s budget.

Until recently, Atlanta was one of the largest airline markets that Southwest had not yet penetrated. The competition in the city from Delta Airlines was brutal, considering that Delta has its headquarters near the airport and major space on several concourses. For years, the combination of Delta and AirTran’s presence in the market created little business opportunity for Southwest in the city.

The setup often yielded responses from residents and visitors alike. “Why doesn’t Atlanta have Southwest Airlines? They are missing out.” Well, now they’re not.

Southwest Airlines received somewhat of a cult-like welcoming in Atlanta, in a good way of course. A flash mob of Airtran-turned-Southwest employees danced together on Southwest’s first day in Concourse C of the Atlanta airport. This created even more media buzz around the airline’s debut in the city as the fun clip went viral on the Internet.

Prior to Southwest’s arrival, AirTran Airways was the only value-priced airline in the market. Though AirTran offered regular deals and specials, travelers noticed in recent years that the airline was pricing itself closer to its higher-end competition.

Now, frequent travelers in and out of Atlanta might have a true low-cost airline option that has long been elusive in the market. It depends on how Southwest handles the acquisition; their prices have been noticeably higher in recent years, as well. It should be interesting to see how long the cult following lasts before the honeymoon fades.

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