Sunday Q&A with: Jon E. Mathiasen with RIC
Nov 3, 2013
RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH (November 3, 2013)
Re-Posted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch: Sunday, November 3, 2013. Story by Peter Bacque.
Jon E. Mathiasen goes way back with Southwest Airlines.
The president and CEO of Richmond International Airport first worked with Southwest Airlines when he was an official at the Midland, Texas, airport from 1983 to 1987. He also dealt with the airline when he worked at San Diego International Airport and as director of aviation at the Harlingen, Texas, airport. His experience over the years with Southwest demonstrated to him that the “Southwest effect” works: low fares and good service stimulate passenger traffic and better air service.
Now, he gets to see it again — as Southwest takes its first flight from Richmond’s airport today.
Q: What will Southwest Airlines’ entry into the Richmond market do for air travelers?
Answer: Southwest offers a highly attractive travel option to greater Richmond travelers. The Orlando route is the first bona fide Southwest-branded scheduled service from RIC, something the community has longed for more than 15 years. For the first time, Richmond appears as a destination for Southwest customers and will be a significant contributing factor in attracting new businesses and conventions.
Q: You’ve dealt with Southwest since you were in Texas. Is it the same airline it was back then?
Answer: Southwest has a great business model that has evolved from a small carrier to now being the largest carrier in the U.S. in terms of passengers carried domestically. It has modified its approach to adapt for business travelers, but what remains is the consistent focus on customer service, reliability, low fares and a good sense of humor. To that end, it has been profitable for 40 years — amazing in any industry and unprecedented in commercial aviation — and yes, it is the same airline, just bigger.
Q: What stopped Southwest from coming to Richmond in the early 2000s?
Answer: 9/11 altered the industry and ultimately created opportunities for Southwest in cities much larger than Richmond. As an airline, you have to respect market opportunities, and it led Southwest to land in Philadelphia and San Francisco, return to Denver, and even offer some service to the New York metro area.
Q: Do such niche carriers as Spirit and Allegiant have interest in RIC? Would they have a role here?
Answer: At the moment, we’re very focused on Southwest and the “incumbent airlines” at RIC. As far as nonparticipants in Richmond, we are in regular contact with their management, but only the airlines can speak to their current or long-term interest in providing service from RIC.
Q: What’s happening with JetBlue and New York?
Answer: In recent years, JetBlue has trimmed several short-haul routes to JFK — RIC is not alone. Boston, on the other hand, has been rapidly growing, and we’ve seen the popularity of its service reflected via increased Richmond-Boston service. New York is a big market, and a lot of people took advantage of the low RIC-JFK fares that JetBlue offered. Competitively, it had the effect of lowering fares to LaGuardia and Newark as well, which was good while it lasted. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough premium travelers, mostly business travelers flying on walk-up fares, willing to go to New York via JFK — it was perceived to be much less accessible to Midtown — and when you combine that with higher fuel prices and a generally weaker economy, JetBlue simply couldn’t sustain the service.
Q: Will RIC’s traffic grow as it gets more difficult to drive up Interstate 95 to Washington Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia?
Answer: That is exactly the potential for the RIC market. We’ve tapped some of it, but there is an upside across the region to establish RIC as the preferred airport for even more travelers across a broader stretch of the commonwealth, thus the importance of having all four principal (U.S.) airlines serving RIC.
Q: Was the money used to promote the airport’s low-cost carriers JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways well-spent?
Answer: Absolutely. The leaders of the low-cost carriers have applauded the Save Low Fares campaign, which they say demonstrates a genuine commitment to their success here. However, if the flying public forgets to fly on these low-cost airlines, all is lost.