How’s metro Birmingham doing? Ask Southwest Airlines

When I write about Birmingham, I typically receive comments like, “The City of Birmingham’s a disaster, but metro Birmingham and the suburbs are doing just fine.”

Certainly the City of Birmingham has seen better days, but when our city sneezes our suburbs catch a cold.

In previous blogs I’ve mentioned that Birmingham’s metro is the slowest growing of its Southern peers–that we’ve lost many of our public and S&P 500 Companies, and even worse, we’re losing our children and grandchildren to other Southern cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, and Dallas.

My family recently took a fun trip to Chattanooga.  There’s so much to do there and the free public transportation makes everything so easy.

Riding on the bus from our hotel towards the Aquarium, we passed the Krystal Building—headquarters to those tasty little hamburgers.  My son, Stacy, who lives in Atlanta, mentioned that Krystal is in the process of moving its headquarters from Chattanooga to Atlanta.

I asked why, and he responded that it’s too much of a hassle for their employees to fly out of Chattanooga when they can get direct flights from Atlanta.

That brings me to an e-mail I received from Suzan Doidge, Executive Director of the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce, who represented Southwest Airlines for 17 years.

She wrote…

 “Southwest will decrease nonstop service to New Orleans and Jacksonville in the spring and this comes after a number of flights that have been rerouted or taken away all together.”

Our Birmingham Airport is in the midst of a $201 million terminal modernization.  Southwest Airlines is our largest carrier.

Losing nonstop flights is not acceptable.  Companies can’t afford to be headquartered in Birmingham if we provide poor air service.  This costs us money and jobs.

Losing nonstop flights is a symptom of a much bigger problem.  We will not get better air service by begging Southwest to increase flights.  Those are economic decisions that businesses have to make.

If we want a better Birmingham, we must quit trying to fix the symptoms and fix their root cause—our redundant/dysfunctional government structure.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is a partner in Buzz12 Marketing and co-CEO of AmSher Receivables Management. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (ONB), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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8 thoughts on “How’s metro Birmingham doing? Ask Southwest Airlines”

  1. It wasn’t too many years ago that I was able to make day business trips to Chicago because Southwest had early and late nonstop flights.   Not any more.

  2. David, a small but important point, particularly if someone were to contact the airlines about more service for BHM. We’ve never really been concerned about how many “direct” flights we may or may not lose. What is critical is that we keep and hopefully grow the number of NONSTOP flights we have and the number of cities served by nonstop service from and to BHM.  That’s what’s really important to the all-important corporate travel market. (Direct means same plane but with an intermittent stop, like in ATL, en route to the destination.) The two words, direct and nonstop, are not interchangeable.

  3. Agree that we need to stop the bleeding in Birmingham… but I’m not sure Southwest’s nonstop flights are a good yardstick. We probably need to take a look at the destination cities, too, and see if there is something happening in those cities to decrease demand for the flights. The economy is hurting other metro areas, too.
    Side question… maybe someone in your world knows how Huntsville is structured… how is Huntsville managing to grow so fast? They fall ungder the same lousy state constitution that we do. How have they structured their local government to be more nimble? How will they deal with “fiscal cliff” issues? (They have an awful lot of their eggs in one basket.) Just curious…

    1. Huntsville does an incredible job of working together. When their Chamber flies to DC to meet with legislators, folks from Madison County, Huntsville, Corporations, etc. all fly together with one common agenda. (I understand 150-200 people)

      We send separate delegations from BBA, Jefferson County, Shelby County, UAB, etc. all with conflicting agendas. We don’t have a government structure that allows us to have a single vision.

      My guess is since Southwest now flies out of Atlanta, they are adding flights to Atlanta and dropping B’ham? This is not good for our metro.

  4. *The root problem in Birmingham proper is a corrupt government.  This stems from a corrupt population base. There are many wonderful folks in Birmingham, but there are not enough of them to politically purge our City Government.

    It is a shame, but my bet is that this is the underlying reason Southwest is reducing the number of non stop flights out of Birmingham. 

    I wish it were different.

  5. *As you can tell from my posts on Comebacktown, I feel the problem with metro Birmingham is segmented dysfunctional government.  37 municipalities in Jefferson County and no home rule allowed by our State Constitution.  There’s no one in charge and every government entity and constituency is out for themselves.  Nothing will change until we fix our government structure.

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