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Flashback Fridays--Once Upon a Time in Detroit

Aviator C

Once upon a time, Southwest Airlines flew to two airports in the Motor City.  We began service to the area with 12 nonstop flights a day to Detroit Metro (DTW) on June 4, 1987.  Ever since the end of World War II, Detroit’s air service had been centered on airports in suburban areas west of the city.  First, all carriers served the new Willow Run Airport (YIP) in Yspilanti until the mid-1950s.  YIP had been built as a large bomber factory during World War II. 

Kind of like JFK at New York, DTW Airport was a small facility that was gradually expanded, and while it was closer to the city than YIP, it was still a suburban location.  Also like JFK, DTW’s first service was international with the European flights of BOAC and Pan American.  After the LC Smith building opened in 1957, about half of the airlines moved their operation from YIP to DTW, and for about ten years, half of Detroit’s airlines flew from YIP and the other half from DTW.  By 1967, all YIP service had moved to DTW.

However, there was another airline serving Detroit out of a third airport, Detroit City (DET).  This airport was just five miles northeast of the Detroit downtown area, or about 25 miles away from the DTW airport.  From 1966 until 1985 when it went out of business, the Cleveland-based regional airline, Wright Airlines flew between the downtown Lakefront Airport in Cleveland and DET.  Their largest aircraft were Convair 440s. 


On September 16, 1987, Southwest and the City of Detroit announced that Southwest will begin service from DET, and on May 4, 1988, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young (the airport will be later renamed the Coleman A. Young International Airport) and Herb Kelleher announce that the service will begin on July 8 of that year.  The city agreed to make improvements to the facility, and they spent $25 million on extending the main runway, renovating the terminal, and adding jetbridges. (The view above is from the DET ramp.)


Service to DET began on July 6, 1988, with Herb and Mayor Young cutting the ribbon.  We offered  13 daily flights, with eight to Chicago Midway, three to St. Louis, and two to Nashville.

A breakfast buffet served what the press release called a "Texas-size breakfast," and it also reports that "All present enjoyed live country music played by Tracey Lynne and the Mountain Express Band."  So I would guess that "a good time was enjoyed by all."

Since we have so many shots of this particular departure (above), I am guessing that it was our first outbound flight from DET.  The aircraft is N302SW, one of our 737-300s named The Spirit of Kitty Hawk.


After the universally enjoyed breakfast and entertainment, the day to day business of our operation proceeded.  Here we see Passengers entering the terminal from the one gate without a jetbridge.

Here's another shot of N302SW, this time at the gate, prior to pushback.  Over the five years that it was open, DET eventually was our primary Detroit operation.  Unfortunately, promised runway improvements didn't materialize, and on September 15, 1993, all our Detroit operations were concentrated at DTW.  At that time, DET had ten daily flights, while DTW had six.  The consolidation brought our DTW operation up to 16 daily flights.  Since 2000, when ProAir pulled out, DET has been without scheduled airline service.

We must have over a hundred color slides of the event, but this is one of those times I wish I could go back into history to retake photos to show our ticket counter, the front of the teminal, and some of the other gate areas.  Still, it is exciting to find hidden historical gems, even from what is relatively recent history, and I will keep bringing them to you on Friday.