Southwest Is Making These 3 Major Changes to Flights, Starting Now
The airline is making some serious upgrades to their fleet as travel rebounds.
Rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic has most airlines retooling their operations. For many, that involves cutting or adding flights to new markets as travel demand surges. For others, it's reintroducing familiar comforts such as in-flight beverage service or hot meals as safety protocols are lifted. But Southwest Airlines is taking the post-pandemic opportunity to attract new customers after announcing three major changes it's making to flights. Read on to see what the carrier has planned for future trips.
The demand for travel is taking off again as passenger numbers finally return to pre-COVID levels.
After two years of uncertainty and lackluster ticket sales, airlines are finally reaping the benefits of a significant rebound in travel. Despite a surge in oil prices and the cost of airfare, many carriers are reporting record-high ticket sales. During the J.P. Morgan Industrials Conference on March 15, Southwest Airlines Chief Financial Officer Tammy Romo said that bookings for spring break travel were above 2019 levels, adding, "we are really encouraged by what we are seeing thus far," per USA Today.
Southwest's enthusiasm was also apparent when it announced schedule changes last month. As of June 5, the carrier will begin offering once-daily service between Sacramento and Santa Barbara, California; daily flights between San Jose, California, and Eugene, Oregon; and daily service between Maui and Kauai, Hawaii, The Points Guy reported. The additions also included an increase in departures for existing routes among destinations in California, including San Diego, Sacramento, and San Jose, while also adding more flights throughout the Southwest U.S. region. In addition, the carrier also bulked up intra-island flights in Hawaii from Honolulu to Maui, Hilo, Kona, and Kauai and international service from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Florida, to Havana, Cuba.
Southwest is taking the opportunity to invest in $2 billion worth of upgrades to its fleet.
On May 11, Southwest Airlines announced it was going even further in its efforts to lure travelers back to the sky by making $2 billion in upgrades to its existing fleet of aircraft to make the flying experience more convenient and comfortable, The Points Guy reports. Among the changes, the carrier hopes to impress more business travelers with improved inflight WiFi across its fleet.
Currently, Southwest has 40 of its Boeing 737s outfitted with service from Anuvu that recently allowed the carrier to begin offering free WiFi to passengers on select flights to test the service, CNBC reported. And while the airline announced it would be expanding service to 50 planes by the end of May and 350 by the end of October, it would also be installing service from mobile WiFi provider Viasat on other aircraft beginning in the fall. The carrier says that it plans on charging $8 a day for WiFi access once the current test period finishes on June 4, The Points Guy reports.
Other changes to the airline aim to make the travel experience more manageable.
Besides a focus on expanding and improving mid-air internet connection, Southwest's upgrades will also provide two other new comforts in their cabins. The first is power ports, which the airline says will be available in every seat in its fleet's Boeing 737 MAX planes, according to The Points Guy.
"The first aircraft with power should enter our fleet very early next year," Ryan Green, Chief Marketing Officer for Southwest, told The Points Guy. "We plan to have about 250 aircraft upgraded with power by the end of next year. Power's going to be installed in every seat, in the seatback in front of you—so you don't have to hunt for the power outlet behind and underneath your leg."
Passengers can also expect the boarding experience to go more smoothly thanks to the addition of new, larger overhead luggage bins that should arrive early next year. The airline, which already famously has a "Bags Fly Free" policy for two checked pieces of luggage per passenger, says it aims to improve the travel experience for those with carry-on bags with the changes.
Other inflight services will get a makeover as part of the changes.
Outside of the airline's $2 billion upgrade plan, the carrier hopes to improve the flying experience elsewhere by overhauling its inflight service. The company announced that it would be doubling the number of movies available to passengers and revamping its beverage service menu, adding items such as ready-to-drink cocktails, rosé wine, and hard seltzer, CNBC reports.
Ultimately, the airline is confident the changes can help solidify the airline's reputation as a customer-friendly travel option. "We have a great product combined with terrific employees delivering terrific service, but there is a lot that we can continue to do to meet our customers' and our employees' expectations," Southwest CEO Bob Jordan told The Points Guy.
"We're coming out of the pandemic. The demand is really strong," he noted about the timing of the upgrade investment, adding that the airline's "very strong balance sheet … enabled us to continue to work on these things while we were in the pandemic so that we can launch them now."