How do you see the AirTran acquisition fitting into your existing network and what types of synergies will you be leveraging?
Southwest and AirTran are an excellent fit. Both companies are low-cost, low-fare carriers with an emphasis on outstanding customer service. The two carriers’ route systems are complementary. The acquisition offers customers more low-fare destinations as we diversify and extend our network into new markets. This includes significant opportunities to and from Atlanta, the busiest airport in the US and the largest domestic market that we do not serve. The acquisition also allows us to expand our presence in key markets, like New York LaGuardia, Boston Logan and Baltimore/Washington, and enables us to serve Washington DC via Ronald Reagan National Airport. Based on current operations, with the addition of AirTran, Southwest’s share of current domestic capacity – measured by available seat miles (ASMs) – would increase from approximately 15% to 19%. This compares with domestic ASM shares of about 21% each for both Continental/United and Delta/Northwest.
How will AirTran’s B717s fit into your B737 fleet?
With a fleet of 86 Boeing 717s, the fleet is large enough to schedule efficiently. We are excited about the possibilities of scheduling a slightly smaller gauge aircraft. We believe the B717 will allow us to match seasonal demand efficiently without necessarily changing frequency in a market. In addition, the B717 will allow us to consider markets and cities that have historically been considered too small for Southwest service.
How many years did it take to secure a cross-border agreement with Volaris?
We had a lot of work to do on many different fronts, from conception to implementation. It is safe to say that it took us more than two years in total.
How have customers responded to the Volaris partnership?
Obviously it will take some time to market the partnership and ramp up, but so far we are pleased with the amount of interest and enthusiasm from our customers.
Is Canada still on your radar?
We remain interested in serving Canada one day, whether with our own planes or through a partnership.
How has the Southwest network changed during the recession?
We haven’t grown our overall capacity over the past couple years, but what we have done is optimise our network to eliminate unproductive flying and reallocate the aircraft to some new markets, as well as existing markets where we have high demand. In the past two years we have started service to five new airports, including LaGuardia, Boston Logan, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St Paul and Panama City Beach. We’ve achieved this without eliminating any airports and without growing our overall capacity. We’ve been very smart about how we’ve allocated our aircraft to match supply with demand.
Which of your airports are showing the fastest growth?
Far and away, Denver has been the fastest growing city in our history, and this has been especially true over the past two years. We’ve also been able to expand significantly in St Louis and Boston.
You are increasingly serving larger airports – does this signal a change of strategy for Southwest?
We’ve served large airports for many years, and these cities do not signal a major shift in strategy. As we have grown, the
number of places left to expand reduces. We see a lot of potential for demand for Southwest service in some of these larger markets, and we’ve been able to meet that demand by bringing these airports into our network.
What is the biggest issue facing air service development in the US today?
Concern over fuel costs continues to be a major issue that we will contend with and is certainly high on our radar.
How has Southwest managed to remain the leading carrier in the US over so many decades?
We’ve been bold and aggressive while remaining financially sound. However, the secret to our success is our people – we have the best employees in the industry, in my opinion.
What is the best thing about working at Southwest?
I think it is that, within the company, there is freedom to be yourself.
What was your first role at Southwest and how did you land the job?
I was a schedule planner – my dad knew Southwest’s vice president of schedule planning, so I cold-called him one afternoon and said I was looking for a new challenge and he offered me a job.
What is your ‘little known’ fact?
I write poetry.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
A basketball player.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Work harder than everyone else.
What is your top holiday destination and why?
Rome – my family came to the US from Italy in 1902.
This article features in Routes News 2011 Issue 1