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Southwest is coming to CAK!

Posted on 01/30/2012 by Kristie VanAuken

Southwest is coming to CAK!! I still can hardly believe it. Why, might you ask? Well, let me give you a little of the back story.

When I took this job at CAK back in 1996, we commissioned the first air service development study. Generally, we knew the routes and potential for building our passenger service, but we needed a road map for ourselves and our community. We hired the Boyd Group to do the research and our former airport director Fred Krum, insisted that it include a future (albeit distant future) with Southwest Airlines at CAK. Mike Boyd fought us on this point, rightly so, because Southwest was 1. Already serving Cleveland and 2. We just didn’t fit their model at the time.  Fred fought back because he strongly believed that at some point, there were going to be two types of airports in the U.S.; those with Southwest and those without Southwest. The fates of each would be dramatically different.

So, Mike forecast that CAK could grow to 1.6 million passengers annually. Now, we were really shocked by that number because 423,000 passengers used the airport in 1996. That was a staggering growth projection.  And wouldn’t you know it, in 2011, CAK passed the 1.6 million passengers mark for the first time in history.  Mike was right!

Over the years, we slowly and carefully built our airport brand and cultivated a loyal Customer base to support AirTran Airways, Frontier, US Airways, Delta and United at CAK. AirTran though, was the carrier that put this airport on the map. They positioned us for a vibrant future, now with Southwest. It was an incredible ride.

But AirTran was acquired by Southwest, and our future really depended on Southwest’s leadership also believing in our culture, our brand and our potential. We have spent the last 12 months learning about this incredible airline. Getting to know what matters most to them, when they look at a community.  We’ve spent the last year getting to know some really fabulous, fun people particularly in network planning and marketing. Big shout outs to John Jamotta, Carter Ganss, Nicholas Haan, Rhett Morgan, Brian Streeval, John Kirby and everyone else who opened their hearts and their minds to our little airport and community. Also, I am indescribably grateful to the marketing/ planning team- Derek Kuester, Bill Tierney, Seth Quillin, Levi Anstine, Christian Galloway for making us and our Punchy so welcome in Dallas.  Every time I travel to Dallas, I feel like I am going to a family reunion, which is totally cool.

When we got word that we “made the cut,” Rick McQueen, our CEO and I breathed a sigh of relief, but then within minutes said, “Ok, now this has got to work. Let’s get ‘er done.”   We are so grateful to be on the leading edge of new route announcements too: nonstop to Denver (June 2) and Chicago Midway (August 12) will create a pathway between the existing AirTran network and the future Southwest network. It is more than we possibly dreamed possible a mere short 12 months ago.

So now we march confidently into the future, never taking any of this incredibly good news for granted though, because, in the end, neither Southwest nor any of our airline partners owe us anything.  They need to make revenue-based decisions and we respect that. Now, our job is to help Southwest, Frontier, Delta, US Airways and United feel confident that they indeed have made the right choice in serving this airport in Northeast Ohio. 

Here is to another record year, to building strong, sustaining relationships, and to serving this community with exceptional air service for decades to come…

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Kristie Van Auken

Kristie VanAuken
Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer

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