Southwest’s Plan To Attract More Business Travelers

Cecilia Nysing

Southwest Airlines is aiming to gain a bigger slice of the post-COVID business segment, Andrew Watterson, Southwest Airlines EVP, and Chief Commercial Officer, recently said. The low-cost carrier is taking advantage of the current commercial environment in the US to do it. Let’s investigate further.

Southwest is looking to increase its number of business travelers. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Southwest’s plans

The business travel market is one of the biggest question marks for the post-COVID world. There are mixed opinions regarding the importance this segment will have going forward. Some say it will never be the same, impacted by the appearance of new technologies embraced by companies like Zoom. Others say face-to-face business interactions will never go out of style.

While Southwest’s CEO, Gary Kelly, said last year on CNBC that business travel recovery might take up to ten years, the airline is still planning to attract this segment going forward.

Today, at a CAPA Live event, Southwest CCO Andrew Watterson said,

“Post-COVID, we will have a better offering to business travelers as well as our enhanced network for leisure travel as well. So we expect to take a bigger slice of the reduced pie of business travel post-COVID. And so, we think we’ll end up in a better spot than we were pre-COVID.”

Southwest Airlines is launching flights from 17 additional stations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace / Simple Flying

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How will Southwest achieve its goal?

Southwest’s plan to attract new business travelers depends mainly on two pillars. The first one is accessing new airports, increasing the number of bases from which it flies. The second one is the launch of a project appealing to large corporations instead of single customers.

In the last year, Southwest has opened up 17 additional stations across the United States. This number includes launching flights from some highly contested hubs like Chicago O’Hare, Houston’s Bush Intercontinental, and Miami’s International.

Adding to that, Southwest has expanded its presence in the global distribution system (GDS) network. This has allowed the airline to enhance its corporate travel game through agreements with Travelport and Amadeus.

Combining both aspects give Southwest a tremendous edge. Watterson said,

“We’re going into more business-friendly airports in the East and the Central of the country. We’re already there in the West of the country, combined with being able to distribute to corporations more seamlessly with GDS’s. We kept doing that project throughout COVID, and now we are going live with all the major GDSs. And so, we think when that comes together, we will have a better offering to business travelers.” 

Southwest Boeing 737-700
Southwest expects the worst of the pandemic has already passed. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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The Southwest of the future

Southwest Airlines will continue to be a leisure-focused airline. In the last year, the two things that have boosted Southwest have been its financial strength and employee engagement.

Thanks to the compromise from Southwest’s employees, the airline has been able to open up at least 17 new stations, added Watterson.

Last month, Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement,

“While the pandemic is not over, we believe the worst is behind us, in terms of the severity of the negative impact on travel demand.”

Going forward, the airline is excited about its recent big order for aircraft with Boeing.

“That combined with continuing to match supply and demand, the same market we’ve developed, we’ll just keep managing that and deploying incremental capacity to the demand we see,” added Watterson.

What do you think of Southwest’s plans to attract business travelers? Let us know in the comments.

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