Hello, Beantown! Our new service to Boston’s Logan Airport is now available for sale! Five weekday nonstops each day between Boston/Logan and both Chicago/Midway and Baltimore/Washington will start on August 16, 2009—with connecting and direct service to 48 other Southwest destinations (I’ll get back to you later for specific terminal and gate information for Logan). In fact, our entire schedule is now open all the way out through October 30, 2009…..so it’s time to book those fall excursions, y’all! Since Southwest serves so many gateways in New England—Hartford, Providence, Manchester, and now Boston—sounds like a great time to go get some “lobstah” or do some “leaf peepin’”…..eyah???
But there’s far more than only Boston to talk about with the Fall 2009 Schedule. This schedule contains some significant changes….and is very reflective of the economic environment that we all find ourselves in. Given the uncertainty of the economy, diminished airline traffic, high energy prices, and about a zillion other factors we consider as we plan for future schedules, we’re being extremely cautious about how many flights we schedule for the August-October timeframe (traditionally among the slowest times of the year) as well as being incredibly focused on the departure time of each and every flight. More than ever, we’ve used our schedule optimizer to help us trim flights that historically have departed at times that proved unpopular with our Customers—and you’ve told us by not flying on them! To frame this with statistics (we’re really good at doing that here in Schedule Planning!), in the Summer 2009 schedule, about 80 percent of our flights departed in what we consider “prime time,” defined as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. By eliminating a number of unpopular flights that leave earlier than 7 a.m. or later than 7 p.m., in the schedule beginning August 16, that percentage increases to 86 percent. That is, by far, the largest swing of this schedule measurement from one schedule to the next in our history. While six points might not seem like much, remember that those six points are spread over a flight “base” of over 3,200 flights, so those six points represent a tremendous shift.
Of course—lest we freak those of you that use our very early and very late flights regularly out—we (obviously!) didn’t simply cut everything before 7 a.m. and after 7 p.m. Flights that have in the past been scheduled at those times and been popular should still remain in the schedule. So if you’re an early bird or a night owl—and as long as there were enough of you on those early and late flights—we’ve still got you covered!
As an explanation to those of you who use very early flights on Friday mornings, or very late flights Friday or Sunday nights, that are eliminated in the August schedule...some of the flights we have trimmed in this schedule had decent loads on Fridays and/or Sundays, yet were very unpopular Monday through Thursday. So why couldn’t we keep those flights only on the days they were popular? The answer might surprise you. Southwest is “built” to operate the same schedule, almost exactly, each day of the week, Monday through Friday, with Sundays from noon-ish on looking almost exactly like the afternoons from Monday through Friday (Saturday has always been its own animal!). Therefore, we had to look at each flight’s results as an average across the whole week, instead of more surgical trimming by specific day of the week. We realize this constraint restricts what we can do with our schedule, and the concept of day-of-week schedule variations is intriguing to us. Who knows—this might be the subject of an entire blog post later.
Getting into the specifics of the August 2009 schedule compared to Summer 2009…we’re bringing back nonstops between Little Rock and Phoenix, in addition to the new service between Boston and both Chicago and Baltimore. We’re also reducing frequency in a total of 81 markets—so this is easily one of most aggressive schedule reductions we’ve ever undertaken. However, again, remember that the vast majority of flights we’re cutting are from the “margins” of the day that (for the most part) you guys didn’t use anyway. We’re eliminating nonstop service in only three nonstop markets—Cleveland to/from Orlando, Indianapolis to/from Jacksonville, and Norfolk to/from Las Vegas—and all three of these markets will retain many direct and/or connecting itineraries. The good news is that we’re actually adding service in six markets, and keeping the number of aircraft flying the exact same.
So….for the August Schedule, we’re opening a new city, shrinking the number of flights in the network, and keeping the number of aircraft in the air the exact same compared to the previous schedule. What should this tell you? That all of us at Southwest are creatively and aggressively responding to market conditions (both in the economy and in the state of aviation industry)…yet those moves are tempered with a healthy dose of “maintaining who we are.” (Talk about your conundrums!) We’re very hopeful that we can resume our growth as soon as the economy begins to rebound—and we’re certain that, eventually, it will.
I recently sat down with our Executive Vice President of Strategy and Planning, Bob Jordan to get his insight on Southwest’s network growth strategy in this challenging environment, here are a few quotes from that discussion:
How would you describe our current growth strategy? We are introducing our low fares and convenient service to new, untapped markets by tapping aircraft time, made available through our schedule optimization, to those places Customers want to go. At the same time, we are showing that we can successfully enter a new market with a conservative investment. This tactic somewhat mitigates the risk in this type of environment. Essentially, we are benefitting from the 38 year investment we’ve made in developing our brand and vast network by “connecting the dots.”
Why is it important to “tweak” our growth strategy in this environment? We realize that the majority of our Customers are changing their spending habits and we must adapt ourselves to our Customers’ needs. Flight optimization is a sophisticated approach to deploying our aircraft. Again, we know that some of our established markets have seen a drop in traffic due to higher energy costs and recession--but thanks to optimization, we’ve been able to adapt quickly, going where people want to fly at the times people want to fly.
If you have a question that you would like to ask Bob, join us for a “lunch with Bob” session on Twitter today at high noon Central Daylight Time!
Thanks for reading this, folks….and more importantly—thanks for your support (and I’m including both our loyal Customers and our wonderful Southwest Family in that statement!). If you have any comments or questions—just post a comment to this blog. I’ll be watching and will post responses as soon as I can. (I’m really good at responding to comments while listening to American Idol!!!)
Happy booking, everyone.
Have questions about today's Boston announcement? Leave them in the comment section below between 10:00am-11:00am CT and we'll ask our Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning, Bob Jordan. A video with his answers will be posted on the blog later this afternoon.