Southwest Plan Fuels Free-Enterprise Debate

Though Southwest promised to spend $130 million of its own money to build a terminal and parking garage at Boeing Field, and to more than double the number of its flights, the proposal met with near-universal disdain.


Q: Can Southwest deliver what it promises?

A: We're evaluating that. But here's a company whose business model has allowed them to provide the lowest-cost airfare in the United States even though they're highly unionized.

People were very derisive of their model when they first started, but they've stuck with their business model, and they've had 59 consecutive quarters of being profitable. No other airline can match that.

They anticipated fuel costs rising. They were the only major airline not to lay off employees after 9/11 and they continue their orders for an all-Boeing fleet. So I look and I say, "Wow, I'm fascinated with this."

Q: Does that mean you'll be biased in favor of Southwest?

A: I don't favor either side. I'm an MVP flier on Alaska. I think that the obligation I have is to make the best decision on behalf of the taxpayers and people who pay airfare and to make sure we have a competitive environment here.

I don't fly Southwest, ironically. I tell people I am 57 years of age and I like aisle seats. I like the certainty of an aisle seat. And I can't get that with Southwest.

Now my sons, who are younger, much thinner and earn a lot less money, they can fly Southwest to LA in a middle seat or a window seat. To them, it's just cheap. To me, it's comfort.

Q: What happens now?

A: We're still evaluating their proposal. We have said there are two issues we have to resolve comfortably even before the environmental impact proposal, and those are traffic and noise.

Q: Neighborhood groups have complained that Southwest's flights will create noise pollution. What can be done?

A: We're concerned about noise, too. We've insisted on a fly-over-water pattern, and Southwest has agreed. That will help reduce the noise in Magnolia. Georgetown will always be a challenge for us because it will always be a neighborhood surrounded by an industrial area and next to an airport that's been there for 78 years.

THE SOUTHWEST PROPOSAL:

--What: Move all Southwest Airlines' Puget Sound flights to Boeing Field

--When: 2009

--Why: To save money on airport fees

--How: Southwest would build a $130 million terminal at Boeing Field at no cost to King County.

--Expansion: Southwest would increase its flight schedule from 38 flights a day now to 85 flights a day at Boeing Field.

--Who Decides: King County government, which owns Boeing Field

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