Southwest Airlines just gave customers a brutal view of future life

Zoom and Microsoft executives won't be the only ones opening their eyes on hearing the latest thoughts from one of America's most respected airlines.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Not flying on business?

I've spent the week grasping at optimism in the smoke.

I was uplifted, you see, by the words of American Airlines CEO, who suggested that Zoom was so awful that it would make businesspeople fly more than ever before.

I miss the days of flying on business, where you'd meet people outside of their kitchens and bedroom floors and listen to their stories in a happy, real-life setting.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams have done their best to fill in during the pandemic. Surely, though, once there's a vaccine, we'll all rush out to resume former habits, even if it costs our employers a little more.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly isn't so sure. He runs one of America's more beloved airlines -- there aren't too many -- and he claims the airline was well prepared for the crisis.

Yet, as Kelly told the Dallas Morning News, a mass movement away from Zoom and toward the airport may not be remotely real.

"I'm certainly not bullish that business travel is going to bounce right back," he said. "In fact, I would argue that relative to a normal recession and recovery scenario, this will be twice as long."

Twice as long doesn't sound like anytime soon. However, it was almost as if he was softening America up for the truly brutal depths of his instincts.

For he added: "I wouldn't be surprised to see business travel languish for a decade before it gets back to 2019 levels."

Will we really have to wait 10 years for it to be natural to take a quick trip to see a client or a business partner? Or even employees in a distant office?

Will it really take 10 years for road warriors to take up their weapons again and accrue a million frequent flyer miles, thanks to their companies?

Such a scenario puts enormous pressure on technology to help maintain relationships, when there's every sign people are already under enormous strain. 

When there's already a term for it -- Zoom fatigue -- you feel it's more than just a passing thing.

When educators, as well as business types, worry that all this screen time has become scream time, will it be incumbent upon business leaders to proactively release their employees on trips in order to foster their mental wellbeing, never mind the health of their business?

The belief that technology can solve everything has become quaint in its absurdity.

Yet we're now in a parlous situation where technology feels like all we have. With potential consequences that we might never have foreseen.

The whole basis for judging employee success may change. Do the same people give good Zoom meetings as give in-person meetings? Will those who somehow perform better on camera now received favored status?

I can certainly imagine salespeople, used to certain personal touches, finding Zoom-selling less than ideal. And if they can't travel on business, that could have severe consequences.

Kelly says he doesn't expect any sort of airline traffic improvement before "sometime in 2021 at best."

Will Zoom and Microsoft manage to find new, creative ways to make business meetings a lot more bearable and interesting? Given the basic limitations of time and screen space, it's hard to see how they might do it.

Still, most airlines, observing the grim realities, are now focusing far more on leisure travelers to prop up their ailing businesses.

I know they're desperate. Over the last few weeks, Southwest's email marketing has verged on drug-addled. The airline emailed me to say that my trip to Palm Springs is waiting for me. As is my trip to Tampa.

This is a little odd, as I've never been to either city and have no reason to visit them now. (Sorry, Tom Brady has always been overrated.)

What algorithm is dictating these ploys?

But wait, I've just had another Southwest email. The headline: "$59 to Las Vegas is still in your cart."

I haven't put any Las Vegas flights in my Southwest cart.

I haven't put anything in my Southwest cart.

Southwest, we need to Zoom about this. I mean, talk.

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