Passengers on one of first Southwest flights into Wichita get special airport welcome

Technically, it was the second Southwest Airlines flight that garnered all the attention Sunday.

The first arrived around 11 a.m., but because it was a Sunday morning, Wichita Mid-Continent Air Service officials built a party around the 2 p.m. flight, when more people could attend, said Valerie Wise, Wichita Airport Authority air service and business development manager.

At Gate 12, there was cake and cookies, punch and a poster saying “Travelers’ Rejoice” that periodically burst forth with a recording of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Wichita police and fire department vehicles with sirens wailing escorted the big blue Southwest plane along the runway.

The Park City “Parky” tiger, Sonic Nuts Squirrel, WuShock and the Wichita Thunder T-Dog mascots jumped and waved, even posed for photos.

Amid cheers and applause, reluctant and somewhat overwhelmed Southwest Airlines passengers stepped off the Jetway and had their hands enthusiastically pumped as they were welcomed to Wichita by City Council members.

“Couldn’t ask for better service,” said passenger Doug Warren. “We flew out on AirTran and came back Southwest.”

He didn’t know he was on one of the first Southwest flights to Wichita until the pilot announced it as the plane landed.

“We were actually supposed to come in yesterday (on AirTran), but the flight got canceled,” Warren said

As the passengers walked to get their luggage, they were serenaded by the St. Mark United Methodist Church Choir singing its own version of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” with a chorus of “Celebrate Southwest, come on.”

A jubilant Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer was more than happy to individually greet passengers Sunday.

“We’ve been working on this well over 20 years,” Brewer said. “The citizens and community have continually said, ‘When are we going to bring Southwest Airlines?’ Myself and state elected officials said we are working on it and doing everything we can.”

Finally, on Sunday, Southwest Airlines flew into Wichita.

“From an economic standpoint, we are giving citizens the opportunity to fly to a lot more locations,” Brewer said. “But doing it at an affordable rate is why it is important for us to have Southwest Airlines.”

Southwest Airlines has long been noted for customer service and low fares. It is scheduled to fly two flights daily to Dallas’ Love Field and Chicago’s Midway as well as one daily flight to Los Angeles.