Saturday, December 17, 2016

Baton Rouge airport hopes to land Southwest airlines

BATON ROUGE – Airport officials said they are trying to woo Southwest Airlines but stopped short of saying there's a deal in place to get one of the country's most popular airlines to land commercial flights in Baton Rouge.

The interim director of the airport said at a discussion about the airport's future, Baton Rouge used to not be in the business model of Southwest. However, Ralph Hennessy said, the business model is changing. The airport hopes meetings to secure the airline will take off.

“I don't need the headline to be 'Southwest will be here.' What I am saying is, for a long time Baton Rouge has not fit into their business model … but, their model has changed,” Hennessy said Friday morning.

“We're trying to… fit into the Southwest network.”

Landing Southwest would be a big get for the Baton Rouge airport – Capital Region travelers looking to book cheap flights on the low-cost airline routinely drive to the airport in New Orleans where there are numerous daily flights to 99 other U.S. cities serviced by Southwest. It recently added Cuba to its destinations, too.

Southwest would likely operate the largest commercial aircraft to-and-from Baton Rouge. Southwest uses Boeing 737s. Current commercial airlines at the Baton Rouge airport operate smaller, 55-passenger jets. The 737 holds close to 140 passengers.

The airport is able to accommodate a 737. Air Force One, a 747 and much larger than a 737, landed in Baton Rouge in 2005.  In January, a smaller Air Force One landed in Baton Rouge for a visit by President Obama.  Then, Obama flew into Baton Rouge on a 757 - still larger than a 737.  In February, a chartered Southwest 737 landed at the airport, too. 

Hennessy said Southwest appears to like Baton Rouge.

“[Unlike in the past] Now, Southwest calls us wanting to have a meeting. There's something there that they're interested in,” he said.

While there is no firm timetable on when Southwest would fly here, officials are confident something will happen.

“At some point in the future… we'll get some service from Southwest.”

A request for comment from Southwest has not been answered yet.  New Orleans airport officials did not wish to comment when reached Friday. 


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