I had known that Southwest Airlines was going to start service from Boston for a while, but it wasn't until my good friend Dan at Things in the Sky talked more about it that I started thinking about how I could go and see it happen. Dan kindly sent a last-minute email to the wonderful Paula Berg at Southwest, who put me on the list of attendees for the weekend's festivities.
On Saturday, Dan and I showed up at Terminal E at Logan Airport. We got our gate passes and wandered over to the Southwest gates, which used to be the old Northwest gates before they made the move over to Terminal A with Delta. Having used those gates before, I can say that Southwest certainly did a good job of sprucing up the place and adding a bit of color.
We waited around for the ferry flight from Dallas' Love Field to arrive; Southwest flight 8500 touched down around 4:30 on Saturday afternoon and received a water cannon salute as it pulled up to gate E1A. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to join the folks down on the ramp.
Cheering Southwest employees and friends of Southwest streamed into the terminal, and Southwest PR Manager Paul Flaningan made a short speech. Then Southwest's Boston station manager, Brian Kunkel, told the crowd, "Five years from now... it's going to be one if by land, two if by sea, and if by air, Southwest it will be!"
Next, it was off to the House of Blues (right near Fenway Park) for dinner with a wonderful bunch of both Southwest employees as well as a few great Southwest fans from FlyerTalk. Paula Berg and Christi Day, both from Southwest's Emerging Media department, were there, as well as Ginger Hardage, Southwest's SVP of Culture and Communications. They all exuded Texas-style hospitality, even though I was the 'local'. Dinner was followed by some fantastic karaoke.
I got up bright and early the next morning to meet up with Dan and Drew (curbcrusher on Twitter and FlyerTalk) to take the subway over to Logan. By the time we got to the gate, passengers were already boarding the very first Southwest flight from Boston - flight 1309 to Chicago Midway, a Boeing 737-700. The plane pushed back shortly thereafter, and took off around 8:40.
We also stuck around for the first arrival, which flew in from Baltimore/Washington late that morning. In the meantime, Southwest had put out quite the breakfast spread near the gates, handing out pastries, bagels, muffins, and coffee. I observed quite a few passengers saying how excited they were that Southwest was finally coming to Boston - it's an airline that really knows how to build up a solid fan base.
Monday morning I ventured over to Logan one more time for the airline's press conference, which was held outside of the airline's check-in area in Terminal E. The nice thing about this area is that Southwest is the only domestic airline there. Because all of the other carriers are international, their flights (with the exception of the morning BA flight to LHR) all leave starting in the mid-afternoon, meaning that the terminal is pretty empty for a good part of the day. Matthew Brelis, Massport's Director of Media Relations, was kind enough to take me from Terminal E over to the water taxi stand, where Southwest employees and the news media had gathered. A Massport fire boat switched on its sirens and started spraying water as soon as the boat carrying Southwest CEO Gary Kelly (you can see him in the picture below, waving) came near.
Once everyone had disembarked from the boat, we walked over to where a duck boat was waiting for us, complete with Southwest banners on the sides. I was lucky enough to grab a seat in the back. The boat (really an amphibious tour bus) drove us over to Terminal E, but the driver, unfamiliar with the layout of the airport, accidentally took us on a brief detour on the highway. But we pulled up in front of the terminal soon enough, and the "Lexington Minute Men" were there, playing drums and flutes.
Here's a video with a few clips from the duck boat ride (note the driver asking Gary if he's really in charge of Southwest) and one from inside the terminal, where the airline was presented with an official citation from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Inside, Ginger Hardage, Massport CEO Tom Kinton, and Gary Kelly all addressed the assembled crowd, which was mostly comprised of the media and employees (although I did notice a few curious passers-by who stopped to watch, too).
Southwest also handed out some delicious clam chowder and iced tea following the speeches, and I even had the opportunity to have my picture taken with Gary himself.
I had never been to an station opening before, and it was really a wonderful experience. I met a lot of great people who were both Southwest employees as well as those who were just Southwest fans. I was able to observe first-hand the immense brand loyalty that Southwest has, and based upon the incredible company culture that I saw, it's not difficult to figure out why. The employees are genuinely excited to be working at Southwest, and it shows. The airline also extends a welcoming attitude to bloggers like myself, which is quite refreshing. Right after he got off the boat at Logan, Paula introduced me to Gary as an aviation blogger. Gary put his hand on my shoulder and said, "We're glad you're here" - not something that I expected from an airline CEO. A big thanks to all of the folks at Southwest who worked hard to make the opening weekend here at Boston a successful and enjoyable one!