Sort of like the development of the atomic bomb, Southwest’s reservations system upgrade project ‘is a dangerous technology and we promise not to use it’.
Southwest is renowned for not assigning seats or flying with a first or business class at the front of the plane.
But it will have the capabilities to assign seats, sell extra legroom, and create a dual-class cabin when it completes several technology projects in the next three to five years.
…Southwest won’t necessarily make these changes but when these IT projects are finished the airline would have the capability to assign seats, sell extra legroom and launch a dual-class cabin, [Southwest CEO Gary] Kelly said.
“We are not planning on making those changes” but have the capability to do so in the future, Kelly said.
Kelly “was adamant that a key part of Southwest’s strategy is not to ‘nickel and dime’ passengers, or charge for the first two checked bags or levy change fees.”
When Southwest first began they were all about speed. At one point financial struggles meant having to give back their fourth Boeing 737 and managing their full schedule with just three aircraft. They invented the ’10 minute turn’ with passengers deplaning from the back while the next flight boarded from the front.
Starting as an intra-Texas airline, they weren’t subject to Civil Aeronautics Board regulation. They could fly where they wanted (within the state) without a years-long process to obtain permission, and they could charge what they wanted as well.
Prior to deregulation, the Civil Aeronautics Board ‘experimented’ with price competition and allowed Texas International Airlines to undercut Southwest pricing within the state. That’s when Southwest introduced its own two tier fare structure — customers could choose, but paying the higher $26 fare meant walking away from the flight with a free bottle of liquor. And in 1978 Southwest became the largest liquor distributor in the State of Texas.
One cabin of service, simple fares were part and parcel of the Southwest route model. They’ve never built the IT infrastructure to do much more and today they aren’t really equipped to even charge for checked bags if they wanted to.
There’s little question they could benefit from greater reservations system functionality. They could publish a full year’s schedule at once, rather than loading flights in chunks months at a time. They could offer customers more connections using their existing flights than they’re able to today. And they could offer a differentiated product and possibly earn more money as a result though they recognize it would fundamentally alter the Southwest brand to do so.
Southwest flies internationally now. Over time they acquired Muse Air, Morris Air, assets of ATA, and AirTran. “LUV”‘s flight attendants no longer wear gogo boots and hot pants, and their automated ticketing machines are no longer called “Quickies.”
In other words, Southwest is on the verge of becoming all grown up.
It’s not 1986 anymore: