Southwest Airlines made a big decision that'll annoy customers who need a rest

Airline strategies are constantly changing. Be careful what you wish for.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer on

Ready for a shorter trip?

Daniel Slim / Getty

As you look toward the summer, you know how things stand.

Well, you think you do.

You believe that there won't be another (big) COVID surge. Even if there is, you're going to finally believe in what used to be called a normal summer, one that involves trips, family, love, sun, and even, perhaps, fun.

I don't want to dampen your dreams and desires. I would, though, like to caution you about a little something that Southwest Airlines just revealed. 

On its last earnings call, new CEO Bob Jordan offered a slightly different perspective from the one you might expect. 

Airlines, after all, had long claimed that they were now casting their eyes and schedules toward leisure travelers.

People have had quite enough of being stuck at home, airlines said. They're desperate to be stuck in the sky, two inches from those who may not be the nicest, nor the politest, nor the healthiest, just to go and relax on a beach somewhere.

And anyway, the business travel thing isn't coming back for years. Supposedly.

It's odd to think that airlines' mastications over people's psyches and prognostications about the future may have been misguided.

At Southwest, for example, CEO Jordan said the airline had noticed a markedly greater enthusiasm for, oh, business travel. 

In the company's words: "March 2022 managed business revenues decreased 36% compared with March 2019." Given many airlines' previous statements -- especially that of Southwest -- you might have thought business travel would be down, say, 70% over two years ago.

It was, in January. And Southwest had estimated it would be down by 40% in March. But the road warriors were suddenly spoiling for a seat.

This is all good, you might be thinking. For airline revenues, but not so good for your fun and sun.

Currently, you see, airlines only have so many cabin crew and so many pilots. So, given the new alacrity for business travel, Southwest is switching things up. Or, perhaps, down. More flights between businessy cities, fewer flights to Hawaii.

There could go your dreams of recharging -- or even of being a digital nomad.

Southwest confessed the airline was getting a touch desperate when it comes to hiring more staff. It's trying to find more employees via social media. It's even offering "instant offers" at the end of interviews. But then these new employees have to be trained. And Southwest has already admitted it doesn't have enough pilot trainers, for example, to do the job.

Some perspective on the enormity of the task at hand: the airline is trying to hire 10,000 people this year -- 1,200 of them pilots.

Moreover, in any job newly-trained employees aren't going to be instantly wonderful. Still, Southwest promises it has enough staff to cope with the flights it has currently scheduled.

But as weather intervenes -- something to which Southwest is especially vulnerable as it doesn't have hubs like United, American, and Delta -- the merest hitch in one part of America can affect so many flights in other parts.

When I say others parts of America, I may be referring to Florida, where there's often the prospect of unruly weather. And where there's a little trouble currently with air traffic control.

Perhaps, then, if you really want to get away, you might want to schedule a few business trips in the short term and a longer vacation-type adventure, well, some time in the future. Or mix the two.

Please consider Jordan's own perspective: "As we focus on the basics, our priorities for 2022 are clear: getting properly staffed and returning to historic operational reliability; restoring our Customer Service advantage; growing our fleet with The Boeing Company's most-modern, fuel-efficient 737 aircraft; adding flights and restoring our network, especially on shorter-haul business routes; investing in enabling technologies for enhanced efficiencies; and producing consistent quarterly profits."

See that emphasis on business travel again?

When it comes to travel this may not be the summer of love as you know it. Or, as Southwest prefers it, LUV.

It may be the summer of business love.

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