Southwest Airlines CEO says they're ready for winter after last December's meltdown
Southwest Airlines CEO Robert Jordan says he's confident the meltdown last December that paralyzed the company's operations won't happen again this winter.
Driving the news: During an interview at the Denver airport Wednesday, Jordan outlined a host of improvements, from software and operations upgrades to additional hiring and equipment, to prepare for the winter season.
- As he spoke, thousands of employees were being trained on how to de-ice airplanes and jetways. The company also added four new de-icing stations and increased the number of trucks by 60% to improve capacity.
- The software shifts include better airport-specific weather forecasts and optimization to reroute planes and flight crews.
What he's saying: "It was very painful for our customers, our employees, but it's made us a better company," he told Axios.
- "I feel really good about the winter," he added.
Why it matters: The air travel debacle that led to more than 15,000 flight cancellations near the holidays hit Southwest harder than other airlines and led to heightened scrutiny, including a congressional inquiry and customer revolt.
- His comments are designed to reassure the traveling public ahead of the coming holiday season, particularly in Denver, a hub for the airline where extreme weather contributed to much of the delays.
Of note: The company says its loyal customers have returned and its brand image is back to pre-disruption levels because "we had a lot of goodwill in the bank."
- "Now that can't happen again," he quickly cautioned.
Between the lines: Even before winter arrives, Southwest is facing a different challenge: The threat of a strike from its airline pilots.
- Unlike Delta, United and American, the Dallas-based airline has yet to come to a labor agreement with its pilots and flight attendants. Union workers planned to picket Southwest's company party Wednesday in Denver, where the company has 6,200 employees.
The other side: Jordan said the negotiations are making progress and the outstanding sticking points involve scheduling and pay rates.
- "No. 1, we want them to be paid, inflation is real," Jordan said. "Second, I don't want the distraction for them."
- He couldn't offer a date for contract resolution, but made clear: "I just don't see the potential for a strike."
The big picture: The broader concerns about declining airline demand that sent stocks falling earlier this month is not reaching Southwest, Jordan said.
- Like others, he doesn't expect to get back the 15-20% of business — mostly from business travelers — post-pandemic, but said the airline is not seeing any weaknesses in its numbers.