Southwest Airlines is Coming to Panama City Beach

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,

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.

66 thoughts on “Southwest Airlines is Coming to Panama City Beach

  1. You can expect Nashville(BNA) to be one of the destinations, as it is a SWA “focus” city and has major operations there. Another city that may likely be on the list is Orlando(MCO), as it is also a SWA “focus” city. Now, the other two I suspecting as a choice between these: Houston-Hobby, Baltimore-Washington, Dallas-Love Field, Chicago-Midway, or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood.


    1. I am not sure Orlando would be one of the major cities. If the objective is to introduce a new population to the area, than it would not make sense that there would be a direct flight from Orlando. First of all, it is too close to Panama city and second, there is really no great incentive in getting the public to fly from Orlando to the panama city area.


  2. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there is an affordable non-stop flight from the New York area. Currently changing in Atlanta or Memphis and flying into Pensacola or Tallahassee. I love PCB but it’s an expensive hassle to get there.


    1. Now, New York City is definately where the population and incentive is. I am also hoping that New York City is one of the four major cities.


    2. I just noticed that Southwest just added more flights to and from Laguardia. Wouldn’t be surprised if one of them flew to Panama City.


  3. I’d like to see one fly out of Michigan. Currently Northwest/Delta give us nothing but high price flights with stops either in Atlanta or Memphis and since joining with Delta they offer fewer flights making the connection in Memphis. These flights always carry the higher price tags to fiy.


  4. I’m voting for Chicago Midway and I sent an email to SWA to back it up…got a general reply from them…it can’t hurt I figure! As a FF on Southwest, even a stop in STL wouldn’t bother me. Thanks for getting the news to us so fast!


  5. Houston
    Denver or Las Vegas

    The first three are good sized traditional hubs and both Chicago and Houston already send plenty of people to the area.

    Denver or Las Vegas because that would give the airport one-stop service from virtually all of Southwest’s Mountain and Pacific time zone cities. I’d guess Las Vegas because SWA has their own entire terminal at McCarran.


  6. Well, personally I’m really hoping for Dallas, since that’s where I’m from! hehe That would be *really* nice. Might actually get to visit friends and family sometimes.

    I’m more excited, though, that we have Southwest at all, no matter where they go. Woot! Great news for us!

    I really hope we get enough folks coming in to keep them. That would be really really great for us.


  7. Well, since we’re all throwing in our 2 cents on where Southwest Airlines should be servicing out of Panama City Beach, here is my desires, er, uh, suggestions:

    Dallas – where I’m from (You too Isaac? Cool!)

    Chicago – where I have family

    New York City


    All of these have a fairly substantial number of people that already visit here regularly and I think would lend perfectly for exposing our area to the masses, getting the best bang for the initial buck.


    1. Thanks for everyones suggestions. Regarding Dallas, I’m pretty sure it is not possible because of the wright amendment. Southwest can only fly to adjacent states from Dallas. I know it expires eventually but not yet.

      I suggested Baltimore as it is the hub for most of the northeast and TORONTO via the Buffalo airport. People dont realize it takes less time to drive from Toronto to Buffalo than from Pensacola to Panama City Beach


  8. Great news – Southwest, please provide flights out of the NYC area. After 20+ years of multiple flights to get to PCB a direct flight would be great!


  9. @Jason – grew up in Burleson, moved to Oak Cliff (so now I have street cred, I think 😉 ), then lived in North Dallas for a few years before moving here in 2004. Howdy! 😀


  10. My comments/guesses were weighed where SWA has hubs. Granted, they don’t have traditional hubs like Delta has in ATL. But it isn’t just about trying to fill an airplane from (let’s say) Dallas to PCB. It is also how many connections can be offered. How many cities can be reached with only one plane change for the passengers?

    Remember, this isn’t just about opening up the area to a few of the cities already sending people. Those people are already sold on the area. They are already visiting. The reason for SWA is to provide easy service from and many markets as possible. Opening up new markets for the Emerald Coast to extract visitors from.


  11. Read the Dallas Morning News article. St. Joe is underwriting Southwest’s entry into the airport to the tune of at most $14 million the 1st year and $12 million the second and if it doesn’t make money for Southwest they will pull out. Count Dallas out becasue of the Wright Amendment – at least until 2012. Look for Houston, St. Louis, Nashville and Atlanta…big draws for this area and other cities can connect in those.


  12. I vote for Denver. Or Minneapolis – I know, not gonna happen. Too bad they don’t fly out of O’Hare in Chicago, that probably would have been the best connection for me.


  13. Finally, after living here for 15 years and not being from this area, I fly at least 8 times a year! Panama City has finally come into its “own”. I fly Southwest when I am on the West coast. The fares are so low, that it is usually cheaper than putting gas in your automobile and driving. This is “huge” for our area. Delta and even the other airlines at the VPS location will now have to compete with Southwest and their low fares! I usually have to fly out of VPS, because there is at least a little competition over there as compared to Panama City. Thank you St. Joe.




  15. Hoping for a Chicago (Midway) direct flight!!! I seriously hope Atlanta is not one of the Southwest flight cities chosen. Delta and Northwest are already flying here from Atlanta multiple times a day. We need to open up direct flights from NEW markets!


  16. I hope Baltimore is one of them.

    Does it make sense to have direct flights from other spots in Florida? I assume most of the traffic will be vacationers from the north, no? Why would someone who lives in sunny ft. lauderdale vacation in PCB on a regular basis?


  17. In an effort to fill seats…There will be no direct flights
    on the initial schedule of destinations. Remember… tickets will literally be on-sale before Christmas. The immediate ticket sales will determine Southwests’ ultimate routes.
    Also remember Southwest has designated $7 million for marketing.My bet is they won’t sink all of it in our market right away… but will wait and see what the best strategy is based on market reaction.


    1. Joe, quoted from St. Joe’s press release from yesterday:

      “Southwest’s service at the new airport will consist of at least two daily nonstop flights from Northwest Florida to each of four destinations for a total of eight daily nonstop flights.”

      I could be wrong, but I beleive “nonstop flights” means direct flights, am I wrong?


  18. This is a wonderful news for the whole region. I hope that JetBlue and/or AirTran will enter the market too. That would help folks from various areas in the country and add more competitions to the airfare. Even the big players (Delta, Continental etc…) would have to lower their airfare too. I cannot wait to see the fun starting with flight schedule in Dec.
    All in all fantastic development.
    Thanks for sharing the news…


  19. Look forward to the development that this decision will bring. Hopeful for a new hospital in and/or around the area, due to this recent event.


  20. great news…hopefully they will have flights from philadelphia or baltimore. Getting to PCB now is an all day event….with connecting in Atlanta and flying in to Pensacola on Air Tran.

    Southwest will have no problem filling up the planes to PCB


  21. Anyone that thinks Atlanta will be a destination is so very, very wrong. Southwest does not fly into Atlanta (Jackson-Hartsfield Int’l) as that is a major AirTran hub and Delta wouldn’t allow it either. So, if you’re in Atlanta, you’ll have to drive Birmingham or Nashville before you can use a SWA plane.

    The same is for Charlotte, as US Airways is the major hub and has a lockdown on that market.


  22. If they don’t offer non stop from chicago, I don’t see this news being to positive for the chicago area unless you are on the south side. If you have to make a stop, might as well fly delta/nwa out of O’Hare.


  23. @Linda – Southwest’s low fare will force the other airlines to compete. So even if you fly another airline, you will benefit.

    Having said that: I encourage everyone to fly Southwest if at all possible when the new service starts. Even if other airlines are cheaper and even if another airline is more convenient.

    Many times, a discount carrier has started a route and then the established (high fare) companies match or undercut the discount carrier in an attempt to get the new guy to lose enough money on the route that they abandon it.

    Once SWA starts service, use it or you will lose it (and lose the low fares they force other airlines to compete with).


  24. I leave in Vancouver, B.C. so I don’t ever really expect a direct flight to PCB, but I would be happy if flying from Seattle I could land in PCB, rather than being forced to rent a car and drive from various places. That said it does allow me to visit areas I might not otherwise have, such as New Orlean’s and Orlando, but the option of not HAVING to do this, is nice.


  25. Thank you Southwest for answered prayers!

    Hoping for Baltimore to be one of the cities, but whatever happens is this could be a huge turning point for PCB property owners.


  26. I hope SWA creates direct flights between PCB and Detroit soon. The Delta one-stop flights between the two are always full. Chicago would be good too.


  27. These are all great ideas. I’m sure Southwest Air would be impressed by the ideas if you contacted them. Go to and scroll to the bottom. Click on Contact Us, Click e-mail, a drop down menu gives you a choice of your comment area. Click on either Customer Service under Reservations or Airport. The suggestions about Orlando are especially good because think how many families would go there for a few days and then come to our beautiful area (practically a Disney by the Sea for kids!)

    Also, in case it wasn’t clarified, a direct flight means the plane would make a stop (or 2) but you (and your luggage) stay on the plane until your destination. A non-stop obviously is just that…no stops. For instance, Are you listening Southwest?!, a flight from Chicago, stopping in St. Louis, continuing to Panama City International, and ending in Orlando would make MANY people happy! (especially my eight grandkids and their parents!)


  28. Part of the reason that South Florida was successful in surviving their condo explosion back in the late 80’s and 90’s was their access to international (specifically South and Central American) travellers and investors. If we don’t look towards better access to this type of renter or condo owner, we will struggle to deplete our inventory of condos and homes on the market. This will cause a further delay to any rejuvenation of new construction. Something out of South Florida like Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood would be a good strategic move for our region! Why would we connect one tourist town like Orlando to another tourist town like Panama City Beach? Just my opinion, but food for thought.


  29. I’m hoping for Baltimore’s BWI. It would make coming down SO much easier and now that they allow dogs on board I can’t see a downside.

    Thanks, Southwest!



  30. I am greatful SWA has chosen Panama City regardless of where their flights originate. Its not about me! We get a lot of drive visitors from the Tennessee area that would fly if available so Nashville is logical. A longer distance link to the west would be nice, but I’m looking forward that step where they go to Mexico and Belize!


  31. For Midwesterners:

    Southwest routinely flies out of Indianapolis (I-65 North and South) and Columbus (I-71 / I-75 North and South).

    Hooray for our second city!


  32. My guess are Baltimore and Chicago for sure. They are around large population hubs and can service many people. They are hubs for southwest so it makes perfect sense.

    The other two would either be


    I think STL or Orlando are contenders but clearly wild cards.

    I come from Oklahoma…its either a 20 hour drive or a whole day journey from OKC to Pensacola or Mobile and then driving. Thank you Southwest…Thank you!!!!~!!


  33. The made a pretty clear speculation on the news on the day of the announcement. Remember, it stated non-stop right? If I remember correctly the 4 cities were:

    San Diego
    and not sure what the last one was…. I want to say it was Atlanta? or maybe it was Phoenix


  34. If it’s in Seattle I’ve hit the jackpot. Never in my wildest dreams would I expect to drive from Vancouver to Seattle and take a direct flight to PC.


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