Ladies and Gents, it’s official: Southwest Airlines has been named the low cost carrier for the Northwest Florida Panama City International Airport. The announcement came early this afternoon at a meeting up at the new airport site. Most in attendance speculated as to what was happening, but very few actually knew with a surety that at the end of the meeting Southwest Airlines would be Northwest Florida’s new partner in our future economic development.
The whole event was lined with hundreds of white fold-up chairs, cloth-covered tables adorned with Econfina water bottles and black plastic bags holding “stuff,” as it was described to me. A stage with nicer chairs was set up and ProTech Services was on site with Neves Media setting up sound, light, and syncing a live stream through Skype to patch through direct communication with some distant unknown entity.
Cebo walked up to me a little before 12:30 and said, “Dude, you would not believe who I just met,” after a pause, “Bob Montgomery, one of the VP’s of Southwest.” Cool.
On my way up to the airport site, I called a contact that I have that has been in the middle of many of the Southwest discussions. When asked about the secrecy behind what was going to happen today, he reminded me that Southwest and St. Joe are publicly traded companies and the secrecy is essential to ensure all fairness in the marketplace. Furthermore he said that regarding the situation, it would probably be pretty safe to assume as to exactly what was going to happen today. I saw him later at the event and he remarked, “Jason, I can’t believe we’ve made it, just amazing.” Indeed.
The event started with the CEO of Southwest Airlines, Garry Kelly announcing profitability numbers stating that even with the modest profit they’ve realized in the past quarter, any profit today is promising. Kelly was in Dallas, but his video image and voice was being broadcast live in the new terminal at the Northwest Florida Panama City International Airport. He immediately followed his initial reports with the announcement that Southwest Airlines is expanding into a new market in May, and that market is the new International Airport in Panama City Florida.
The buzz surrounding the announcement couldn’t be contained before Bob Montgomery, vice-president of properties at Southwest Airlines, took the stage and turned that buzz into full-on electricity. “We will be bringing two daily flights from four destinations,” Mr. Montgomery said, “which makes eight non-stop flights. That’s almost 2,000 seats coming into the Northwest Florida region every day. By December you’ll have an announcement on fares and schedules and by May 2010 you’ll see our canyon-blue jets flying over your white, sandy beach and clear waters.”
That’s big news.
From Southwest Airlines’ Blog, BlogSouthwest.com:
The biggest news of the day is that Southwest intends to begin service at the brand-new International Airport being built near Panama City, Florida next May. We’re bringing low fares and GREAT service to the land of sugar-white-sand beaches, incredibly gentle blue waters, and an amazing variety of visitor accommodations just in time for vacation season, Summer, 2010! Up until Southwest’s arrival, this part of Northwest Florida has been plagued by high fares and a lack of full-sized airline service. We’re going to change that. Southwest’s entry into the Panama City market will make it possible for all of America to experience the incredible beauty of Northwest Florida!
Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp reiterated this point saying, “Having Southwest encourages people to want to vacation here, buy houses and move here. When they get here they’ll fall in love, just like I did, with the natural beauty and the warmth of the people.”
This great news has taken us all off the edge of our seats and allows us to settle in, focus on the future and prepare to maximize this unprecedented opportunity. So fasten your seat belts and place all tray tables in the upright position. Panama City Beach is going places, and it’s going to be a great ride.
Southwest plans to announce schedules and servicing destinations in December.
This article was co-written by Cebo Campbell.