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Exclusive: Southwest Airlines May Consider Expanding In North Texas, Operating At 2nd Airport Later This Decade

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Southwest Airlines top executives said Tuesday, Feb. 1, they may consider expanding operations and have flights at a second airport in North Texas later this decade.

Their comments came during an exclusive, joint interview with CBS 11 on the same day Bob Jordan became the Dallas-based carrier's sixth CEO in the company's 51 year history.

After serving as CEO for 18 years, Gary Kelly became Executive Chairman.

Regarding potential expansion locally, Kelly said, "The thought that we would be sitting in the DFW area for 25 years and not grow makes no sense. So yes, I think we'll have opportunities later on this decade to think about how we might want to expand."

Kelly oversaw the repeal of the Wright Amendment, approved by Congress in 2006.

Beginning in October, 2014, Southwest could fly nonstop to anywhere in the U.S. from its home airport of Dallas Love Field.

As part of that repeal, Love Field is limited to 20 gates and domestic flights.

But under the five-party agreement between Southwest and American Airlines, the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, and DFW Airport, Southwest could add flights to DFW or another airport in the region without having to give up the same number of gates at Love Field in 2025.

Jordan agreed with Kelly. "You've got demand and how do you sit still and not meet that demand?"

He said a decision on that is down the road. "Like any other strategic question, we'll take that up in time."

When compared to 2019, Jordan said Dallas has rebounded during the pandemic better than most other cities. "Most airports are roughly restored to 75 percent. I think our Dallas markets are in much better shape. We're flying roughly 90 percent of the schedule we flew pre-pandemic, so it shows you the strength of Dallas. It shows you our commitment to Dallas."

Jordan said they're looking forward to 2022 and posting a profit in March along with each quarter and the rest of the year. "Our highest order of priority from a network perspective is restoring it back to what it was in 2019 because that adds depth for our customers, it adds recoverability for our customers and our employees and it's just very important to do that."

Kelly said demand for leisure travel is strong, but not business travel so far. "Our business travel is still down 50 percent compared to pre-pandemic but as that recovers, to Bob's point, we'll want to restore that flight activity."

During the interview, Jordan said Southwest remains committed to low fares, no assigned seats, and no fees to change flights or to check baggage.

Southwest ended 2021 with 728 aircraft and Jordan said the long-term plan is to expand. "We're going to grow this company to 5,000 flights a day, 1,000 aircraft in the fleet."

But when asked when that will happen, Jordan couldn't say just yet. "I can't give you a date. We have a lot of fleet flexibility, but there are so many opportunities in front of us."

As CEO, Kelly oversaw Southwest's expansion to New York City, Hawaii, and the Caribbean, along with a merger with Air Tran, and a new reservation system and frequent flyer program.

He said all of that helped the airline become stronger, but he credited their nearly 60,000 employees. "Our people are the ones who make this company work. They're the ones who take care of our customers and it's up to us to make sure we take good care of our people. I feel like we have in what is arguably the worst of times. To get through this pandemic with no furloughs, no layoffs, no pay cuts, I think both of us are very, very proud of that."

At the end of the interview, Kelly surprised Jordan, by handing him a baton. "I would like to formally pass the baton to Bob Jordan."

Jordan said, "It's an honor. I love this company. I love our employees."

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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