Breeze debuts new options for NH travelers as Southwest battles investor pressure

Breeze Airways was welcomed to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on June 14 with arriving aircraft was greeted with the traditional water canons from the MHT airport crew and then celebrated with the spraying of champagne on the aircraft. Photo/Jeffrey Hastings

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MANCHESTER, NH – With a drizzle coming down and the sun trying to poke through the sky, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT) celebrated the inaugural flight of Breeze Airways June 14, the third new carrier in three years to begin flights from the Queen City.

Next month, Airport Director Ted Kitchens will get to pop open another bottle of champagne as the airport welcomes Sun Country Airlines, the fourth new carrier since 2021.

The airport could use the leverage.

When Kitchens arrived at MHT nearly six years ago, he took over a struggling airport whose fortunes have rested primarily on traffic from Southwest Airlines, long the dominant carrier.

A year ago this June, Southwest celebrated its 25th anniversary serving Manchester with fanfare similar to a new airline launch. Kitchen handed out airplane-shaped cookies to travelers waiting to board a flight to Baltimore who suddenly found themselves the audience for a press conference.

“Over the past 25 years, we’ve had plenty of challenges, but there’s been one constant: That’s been our friends at Southwest Airlines being a calm, steady reassuring force through 9/11, the Great Recession and most recently the pandemic,” Kitchens told the group.

Now those friends at Southwest face a new challenge.

Last week, Elliott Investment Management disclosed it made a $1.9 billion stake in the Dallas-based carrier and wants to oust CEO Bob Jordan and make changes to its board, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The activist investor wants to boost Southwest’s financial performance, which it blames on leadership that has failed to adapt to changes in the industry. The airline’s vulnerability was exposed in 2022 when it was still canceling thousands of flights a week after a storm disrupted air travel because its decades-old software could not keep up with demand.

How the shakeup plays out could have repercussions for Manchester as Elliott attempts to force changes in how the airline operates. Southwest executives are already rethinking the airline’s seating and boarding process, the Journal reported.

Dreams of Providence

In the meantime, Manchester airport officials have welcomed a new airline that could expand here if demand warrants it. Breeze began flights last week to Charleston and Orlando on Airbus A220-300 aircraft and plans to begin service to Tampa in September and Fort Myers in October.

Last month, Breeze announced it will expand operations at T.F. Green International Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, where it began service three years ago as part of the airline’s launch. It currently offers 32 weekly flights to 18 destinations. Breeze plans to base up to 12 aircraft at the airport and double its workforce there to 400. The expansion will allow the airline to offer 200 weekly nonstop flights from 35 destinations.

Its growth in Manchester depends on demand.

“Putting people in seats and filling up flights and really building and growing the market out of Manchester will lead to further flights and a further commitment to the community,” said Cory Christian, regional manager of airport destinations for Breeze Airways, during an interview at MHT.

Breeze CEO David Neeleman also founded JetBlue, which serves Boston Logan International Airport but has yet to come to Manchester.

What Neeleman had to say about Providence echoes the struggles of MHT and Kitchens, whose challenge is to redirect more of New Hampshire travelers from Boston to their local airport.

“I think sometimes when you have a big airport like Boston with a lot of service, and you have another airport nearby, airports like Providence get left out,” Neeleman told Forbes.

MHT is also serviced by American Airlines, United Airlines and Avelo Airlines.

Spirit Airlines recently suspended flights from Manchester but has said it would return for seasonal business next winter.

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport’s biggest threat has long been human behavior. Convincing travelers to plan ahead to secure the best fares versus paying for a bus ride to Boston is essential to recruiting new airlines to do business here.

The success of Breeze in Manchester — and growth that aligns with the airline’s rapid expansion in Providence — rests largely on local airline travelers.

“I think the first thing we got to do is we got to fill up these airplanes and show Breeze that the market is here and that the market is going to fly Breeze,” Kitchens said. “And if we do that, then it’s up to me to continue to have the conversations with the airline leadership. And hopefully we can get to that point as a market.

“There’s nothing stopping us except our choices.”

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