Officials with Southwest Airlines and the Clinton National Airport gathered to celebrate the first day of renewed nonstop flights between Little Rock and St. Louis. Southwest previously discontinued nonstop service between the two cities in June 2013.
The airport lobby ticket counter was decorated in St. Louis Cardinal balloons, and Fred Bird, the Cardinals mascot was on hand for the festive event. However, the message to passengers was serious one: if there aren’t enough ticket sales to support these flights, they won’t last. It’s not an idle threat.
Southwest on Tuesday (Jan. 5) discontinued nonstop flights to Baltimore and Chicago Midway. The St. Louis flights are made possible by repurposing the equipment, planes and crews from those routes.
“Whenever you lose a flight, it’s hard to get it back,” said Ronald Mathieu, executive director of the Clinton National Airport. “If someone is getting a new flight, that means someone is losing one. We want to stay on the winning side of that equation. In this case, we were able to keep steady by adding routes when we lost routes. But if people don’t use it, it will go away. So we want people to be on planes instead of in cars to St. Louis.”
Mathieu and Virgil Miller, Jr., chair of the Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission, both described Southwest Airlines as committed to Little Rock and a good corporate partner with which to work. They praised the company for making a change in routes, rather than pull the equipment and crews altogether. The airline has been running flights out of the airport for 30 years.
Carter Ganss of Southwest Airlines said the twice daily schedule between Little Rock and St. Louis makes it possible for business travelers to make day trips if they wanted to. “Our purpose is to connect people to what’s important in their lives,” said Ganss.
Southwest continues to operate nonstop flights to Dallas Love Field and Phoenix Sky Harbor International, in addition to St. Louis. Passengers also may fly nonstop to a total of 13 airports including Atlanta, Charlotte, Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, New Orleans, O’Hare and Orlando from Clinton National on six airlines.
In November 2015, the most recent numbers available, 166,188 passengers traveled through Clinton National, up 3.11% compared to the same month the previous year. However, travel for 2015 was down 4.48% overall for the year. Southwest Airlines accounted for 26.23% of November travelers at the airport. January-November enplanements for Southwest totaled 242,785, down 9.85% compared to the same period in 2014.