GREEN: Akron-Canton Airport’s future with Southwest Airlines is still strong, despite the low-fare carrier ending its Chicago Midway International Airport service in November, an airport official said.
The airport still offers seven nonstop destinations through Southwest and AirTran Airways, which was purchased by Southwest in 2011, said Kristie Van Auken, spokeswoman for Akron-Canton Airport, in an interview Tuesday.
“We feel like our future is incredibly bright with Southwest, regardless of what happens with Chicago Midway,” Van Auken said.
“We’re talking to them about other markets. They feel bullish about our markets.
“All of our AirTran markets and Denver are working really well. If you look at the whole list of the network, we still have unbelievable nonstop flights like [AirTran’s] New York, Atlanta, Boston and Tampa every day and multiple trips a day.
“The daily to Denver [with Southwest] is really solid. That in itself makes an exceptional Southwest station here,” she said.
The other nonstop AirTran destinations include Orlando, Tampa and Fort Myers, Fla.
Last week, Southwest officials confirmed plans to discontinue its Akron-Canton to Chicago Midway route beginning Nov. 2.
Van Auken said the airport is negotiating with Southwest to reinstate the Chicago flights and airport officials are hopeful traffic this spring and summer will show the carrier that the Chicago destination should be reinstated.
Southwest arrived last year at Akron-Canton on Aug. 12 with two daily flights to Chicago. A previous AirTran nonstop to Denver also converted to a Southwest flight.
Van Auken said the timing of Southwest’s arrival didn’t coincide with the busy travel season, so passenger numbers weren’t as strong as airline or airport officials wanted.
“The service ran in a traditionally weak period,” Van Auken said. “That made it much more challenging for us. If they would have started this service in March, it would have gotten off to a better demand.”
Since March, the airport has seen “significant improvement month over month,” she said.
Van Auken said the airport has had to work on educating its customers that Southwest flights are not included on common flight aggregation websites such as Orbitz or Travelocity and that customers should research information online at www.southwest.com.
A new addition that will also help with bookings and converting current AirTran customers to Southwest is the recent “code sharing” that went into effect in April, Van Auken said. That means customers can book an AirTran flight on Southwest’s website and vice versa.
“Code share is huge because your bags fly free [on Southwest],” Van Auken said. “That’s a great incentive and a natural inducement for our AirTran regulars to pop over to southwest.com.”
Southwest has not announced when it will fully convert AirTran flights to Southwest, but has said systemwide that all flights would become Southwest by the end of 2014.
Asked if there was enough room in the market for Southwest to fly to Chicago from both Akron-Canton and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Van Auken said Chicago has been a strong market for Northeast Ohio.
“There’s 4.2 million people in Northeast Ohio. We get our fair share of the market. There’s been low-fare markets out of Cleveland for a long time. ... We’re educating people that you can get low fares out of here.
“There’s more than enough customers going to Chicago,” she said. “We have United service that goes to O’Hare, which is great, but it used to cost $850. Southwest comes in and you can get there for $59 each way. There’s value in a low-fare city.”