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WHY CAN'T I MAKE RESERVATIONS FURTHER IN ADVANCE?

Bill
Employee
Employee
Schedule Planning Department members are used to being asked questions.  Usually, it's "What's the next new city?"  or "When are we going to add nonstop service from X to Y?"  Of course, we can't give direct answers, as we have to protect the confidentiality of our growth plans.  In fact, we've learned to tap dance our way around those types of questions better than the cast of 42nd Street.   However, one question we do get asked repeatedly is why Southwest doesn't allow Customers to make reservations further in advance.  I can easily (and happily) de-mystify that one!  It really boils down to one, very simple reason:  we don't like to confirm a reservation to a Customer, and then have to change their schedule.    As all of us know, the farther you look out into the future, the harder it is to make accurate predictions.  TV Weathermen have trouble telling us what it's going to be like outside tomorrow much less ten or eleven months from now.  Because the airline industry is as chaotic as the weather and in a constant state of flux, we can only predict with a high degree of certainty what our Corporate, and our Customers', schedule needs will be up to roughly six months in advance.  Therefore, we publish our schedule and allow bookings only up to about 180 days in advance--six months of inventory, if you will.  After we publish, we let the clock tick down, day by day, until we have about 120 days worth of inventory left to sell, at which point we publish another "block" of schedules and push the inventory back up to about 180 days.  On rare occasion (and we're in one now) the inventory can drop as low as 90 days, and on even rarer occasions we'll have more than 180 days available--but the general goal is to keep between 120 to 180 days of inventory for sale.  Outside of that six-month timeframe, we're free to make whatever schedule changes we need to in order to remain competitive, maintain operational excellence, and give our Customers the Freedom to Fly all over America.   If we were to allow bookings as much as a year in advance--in effect, before our plans were solid--we would have to make changes to many, if not most, of those longrange reservations.  Nobody likes that outcome.  For one thing, it's expensive to spend the time and resources to notify Customers whose itineraries have changed.  Second, and worse yet, depending on what we changed in the schedule, we couldn't always rebook changed reservations onto replacement itineraries at similar times.   Not that we haven't thought about this issue, many times, at great length.  We've repeatedly examined the benefit of extending the booking "window," and each time we've found that in general, very, very few Customers would take advantage of booking flights ten or eleven months from today.  So by allowing bookings further in advance than we now do, we'd be setting up a potentially very disruptive chain of events that really would not provide a significant benefit for either our Customers or our Company.   We think our existing policy strikes a great balance between offering Customers the ability to confirm their travels far enough ahead of time to suit most of their needs, and allowing Southwest to keep our costs low and our flexibility high to respond to changes in the marketplace.  So remember the "120/180 rule" for future bookings on Southwest.  We will usually make up to 180 days of inventory available for sale, then allow that booking window to tick down to 120 days-then "recharge" the booking window by putting another 60 days or so of salable inventory out there, taking the total days available back up to around 180.  But if you keep this general rule in mind, it'll provide a good yardstick to see where Southwest stands in with respect to the booking window.   Hopefully this will help "de-mystify" planning future travel on Southwest.  Keep the questions, and the comments, coming!  And feel free to ask me or anyone in the Schedule Planning Department what the next new markets are going to be.  We can't tell you....but we do a mean soft-shoe.  
262 Comments
Rich5
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Booked on US Air and won't ever look back!!!! SWA really is nuts!!!!
Ellen
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Just booked with Jet Blue for June travel. How much patience is a loyal customer expected to have? VERY disappointed in your management style/decisions. Have held out since OCTOBER and will book elsewhere for December travel too. When you do finally get around to opening up some more dates, the Internet rush will make it near impossible to book at a competitive rate anyhow... Ellen
Don_Redden
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"Wanna get away?" Yes, I do...but can't. Another week to wait this out. Then traffic will be so heavy the system may crash. I recall when SW had a plane mocked up with a Shamu/Sea World paint scheme. I think a turtle would be more appropriate at this time. Maybe you guys could borrow the Slowskies from Comcast's advertising campaign.
FriendofBlogBoy
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Bill, I have to say that I'm pretty frustrated and exasperated with you and this whole scheduling process. I want you to know that I am deeply into the planning process for bringing all of my relatives to town to celebrate my 100th birthday, and YOU are single-handedly holding up the logistics. Would you PLEASE tell me when you expect to post the flight schedules for May 2056? Kim 🙂
FriendofBlogBoy
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"...I have it on good authority that the real reason is Kim Seale might have a new job and SWA needs to if/know when he starts so they can adjust the candy corn distribution properly. ..." Hey Jim? Do you know something I don't know? You been talkin' to my former classmate from UT, Mr. Kelly, and he's told you sump'n? I know he told me that he is going to repaint ALL of the planes in the fleet to burnt orange and white, but I didn't realize it was a welcoming present for my new job. By the way, when do I start? After twenty-five years, I really should give a two-week notice at my present job. Thanks for the head's up, Kim 🙂
naunnie
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Where is Dr Phil when you need him......
Suzanne3
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I've been checking diligently for almost 2 months now for 5 r/t tickets in mid-May. I was completely mystified by the lack of reservations beyond 5/10. With each day and week, I grew more curious. The lack of easily accessible information baffled me and I resorted to finally googling "why can't I reserve a southwest seat past 5/10?" Lo and behold - here is the blog. Finally - some answers! Representing perhaps thousands and thousands that do not know this blog exists and have no idea that there even is such thing as a scheduling window with SWA, please allow me to offer the novice perspective. I had honestly started to think that SWA was going through some massive change, merger or acquisition. I'm not upset, I'm not freaking out but I am disappointed. It's just plain unsettling to have unfinished business. It's disconcerting to not have all of your reservations in order. I fully understand that I can cancel my hotel plans if the flights don't pan out, but what about those river rafting trips I've booked, the train tour from Williams to the south rim of the Grand Canyon or the jeep tour of Sedona? Here's the bottom line - people like it when all of their plans are done, booked, finalized, paid for, whatever. This is the only unfinished item in a 2 week itinerary and while I'm feeling better now, I can't say the same for "Grandma" who's traveling with us. She's freaking out! You have lost business. You know that and you'll survive. No doubt. But the really disturbing part is that the consumers left without understanding what you were thinking. "Grandma" had a 2/1 deadline in her mind - that was as far out as she would go without having a complete melt-down at the lack of tickets. I don't think she's unusual in that respect, nor am I for wondering what the heck was going on at SWA? Perhaps the posters that have commented that people should just "chill" or "fly someone else" really have something constructive to offer. If your plans need to be well buttoned up months in advance, then maybe SWA isn't the right airline for you. That's sad, though. And disappointing. And avoidable. Information is power - maybe a link prominently displayed on the reservations page that offers an explanation (and maybe an apology) wouldn't be such a bad idea. It might even help the novice customer know that you're not going out of business, or merging or suffering from some crazy conspiracy to virally market your summer schedule... Patience is a virtue and I now know that the schedule IS coming. It would have been nice to know some of this two months ago by selecting a "Want to book after May 10?" link. By the way - the reference to an apology isn't for the schedule being 90 days out, or whatever number of days it will finally be. It's for not managing your customer's expectations and leaving people to draw their own conclusions.
Dan_Taylor
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Bill, I am from the UK and currently planning a round-the-world tour, which has been booked for over 6 months - with flights booked for every leg except the US leg as much as 18 months in advance. For some bizarre reason, SouthWest is the only airline I have come accross in the world with such a bizarre system for loading its flights and schedules. Low cost airlines in the UK such as EasyJet, Australia's Virgin Blue, and Asia's Air Asia have much better systems allowing customers to book as much as 12 months in advance. Yes, Southwest began the low-cost model in Europe, but for gods sake - why is Europe now suddenly getting their booking systems so much more advanced. Whilst I am only waiting one flight from LAS to LAX to become available in June, there is clearly a huge amount of customers who will be forced to go elsewhere. I have got bored of waiting and I have to admit based on your prices for May, Delta and US Airways are only about 5$ more then u guys....looks like im off to US Airways.
Harpo1
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6 more days till the schedule opens and then all of you can finally shut up.
Jim13
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Thoughts: Bill is probably wishing he had never posted on this blog. Many above mention "The system will crash when it opens for May 11+ booking". Rubbish - SWA moves over 2 million people a week, 70% purchase tickets online. I'm sure a system designed to handle 1.4 million reservations a week can easily handle the extra 10-15% load factor it will see. My crystal ball says maybe 2% of the people who promise they will "Never fly Southwest again" will actually make good on their promise. Many people above have suggested setting the system up so each month another month is added - if there are no technical reasons requiring the current "add 120 days to the bucket at a time" system, I think that is something SWA should strive for. Bill Owens has class, it takes guts to come here and face a hostile crowd. Extremely doubtful this situation (less than 120 days available) will ever happen again. SWA has historical data that tells them how many people book how far in advance, I'll bet that was taken into consideration when they set the current time line (back in October? November?) but Mother's Day and Memorial Day weren't considered. SWA messed up, they've admitted messing up, they have apologized and learned - what more could you ask for?
M_5
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I, like most everyone else that has posted have been waiting for 2 months to try to buy tickets to Las Vegas May 11. I found a direct flight on Allegiant for $89 each way and went ahead & bought the tickets. It was too good to pass up considering there is no guarantee that when the schedule finally opens up that the prices would even be comprable. I would have preferred to fly Southwest, but I honestly just got tired of waiting. M
Paul1111
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Dear Bill, i think you have been patient and helpful with a situation beyond your control. Thanks. For the people with the rude comments to those who are having difficulties due to this short time frame Southwest is offering, why do you even care? If you are not having any problem and love all things Southwest, why even read this blog. There are several other blogs that deal with the things Southwest does very well. Go read them and be happy. Your sophmoric comments don't make you or Southwest look any better. I hope Southwest makes an effort to keep at least 120 days available, and I will be happy to buy their product. See you all at 10 AM on the 8th. Paul
Chris22
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Bill, Interesting that you added that post talking about how many steps go into producing the schedule and getting it ready for booking. We never said that it was easy, we just want you to do it further in advance. Thanks.
Anonymous2868
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SWA is losing business- here it is February 3rd & you can't buy a ticket past May 10th? SWA is usually consumer friendly- with this they're stupid. I've taken SWA in the past to save a few bucks, but often they're more trouble than they're worth- I just booked 2 family trips (8 RT tickets) on another airline for our summer trips- I've got good fares, assigned seats & legitimate airports to fly out of, not run-down little dumps in the wrong part of town that SWA mostly uses. So I'm happier & SWA just lost $1700+ worth of my business. I couldn't be alone.
Jean7
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Did I miss a post that said the schedule would actually open on the 8th? All I read was Bill was this quote: "The reality of the process is that when I first posted this blog piece last week, it was already too late to open the summer any earlier than February 8th, no matter how we tried"
doris_godfrey
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Hi there - I understand part of why you won't book too far in advance. However, today is Feb 2, 2007 and you're only booking until May 10, 2007 - that May 10th date has been there for over a month!!! When will it move????? I'm trying to wait patiently but will soon have to go to another airline because I'm worried about getting flights for vacation in may. I want to fly southwest - I love the company (and own the stock) and love the concept that they're trying to promote. However, it certainly is getting difficult to make plans for the quickly approaching near future. One suggestion is to let the customers know when the date will be expanded rather than all of this guess work. Thank you for listening, An tired and somewhate impatient mother & traveller, Doris Godfrey
blusk
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Hi Jean, The definitive answer to your question is in Bill's January 30, 12:23 PM comment--it's the 90th comment in this string and it is a little more than half-way through the string. He says the schedule should open "next Thursday," which at the time he was writing would make that February 8. Brian
Jean6
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Dear Brian, Thanks for your info! post number 90 out of...what is it today? 167? I can't believe I missed it! 🙂 I appreciate the second set of eyes wading through all the mud and muck. It's sad to read all the mean comments. I particularly like the man who ended his rant "open the schedule NOW" Well, since you put it THAT way...! it may be a pain that the schedule isn't open yet but sheesh! I can see them stomping their feet or holding their breath.....! Jean
Barbi
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Doris Godfrey (and others) Please READ the thread before you ask a question that has been answered repeatedly.
Scott_Frakes
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So - when will the block be restored to 180 days? I want to book a flight for late in May - and I want to fly Southwest - but I need to firm up my plans now. Thanks!!
Kim26
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I understand the delay, but currenlty the website is down to 96 days out. That does not fit in the 120/180 time frame listed. I am trying to make plans for the end of May but the website has not been updated in some time. Just Curios. I called the 800 number and they said they were not sure what was going on, that this is the longest period of time southwest has went without extending the travel dates. I would just like to know when it will be updated. Thanks so much Kim
Leah3
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Would it be possible to have schedules from January-July & then August-December? It's just a thought. SWA LUV! 🙂
Marie5
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I must say I'm very impressed with your openness, Bill. I have been quite frustrated about not being able to make reservations around Mother's Day--our family has a big trip planned. The SW customer service person I called tonight sounded pretty frustrated--though cheerful--with all the calls about this. But SHE "DIDN"T KNOW ANYTHING"!!! There's nothing more frustrating than feeling like the company you are dealing with is unresponsive, and that's how I felt. However, her supervisor told me to check the blog. I suggest that you prepare a statement that your reservations/customer service people can use, so that they don't say something like WE DON"T KNOW ANYTHING UNTIL THE (nameless) THEY TELL US--that makes it sound like SW mgmt doesn't care. I sure hope Feb 8 is the date! And that you have a nice vacation planned soon yourself!
joe-mdw-plane-d
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Kim, you already have a job at Southwest. Lav cleaner remember? Joe 😜
GEORGE_Valis
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I am becoming increasingling frustrated with how long it is taking to open up booking dates beyond 5/10/2007. I've been trying to book a flight from albany airport in NY to jacksonville Fl for the dates 6/21/2007 - 7/4/2007 I have seen fares as low as $59 each way and I'm hoping I can get one of those fares. I prefer to fly from Albany instead of one of the New York City Airports. We have 6 in our party and the savings would be helpful. I have found a pretty good fare on another airline and I'm ready to book if we can't be told when the dates & schedule will be available. right now you are only booking just over 90 days out.Does anyone know when otherwise I will have no choice but to fly another airlines. Thanks
joe-mdw-plane-d
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Feburary 8 at 10 am central!
Julie5
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Just discovered this blog in trying to find some announcement regarding the scheduling problem at Southwest. There are many customers unaware of this blog who are frustrated and disappointed, feeling unable to wait any longer to schedule travel. A more calculated business decision, demonstrating an interest in customer satisfaction, could have included either an anticipated date for future scheduling or Bill's explanation...on the website, Book a Flight, section.
Tom19
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Just wanted to thank SWA for having this blog as a means to communicate with its customers. While I share the frustration others have regarding the delayed schedule opening (like others, I am planning a trip with flights shortly after the current May 10th cutoff), I greatly appreciate the explanations about Southwest's policy compared with that of other airlines. Living in Montana, I have never flown Southwest before, but after seeing the fares that United, Delta, and Northwest are currently charging for the routing and dates/times that I want, I am seriously considering making the 6-hour drive to Spokane for Southwest if the price is right. Based on the prices I've seen for pre-May 10th flights, I think they will be. Anxiously awaiting Thursday...
Hope2
New Arrival
Can't wait until Thursday, Please nobody book flights to Orlando until I get mine for our family of 4! He, He 🙂 You're awesome Bill! Luv the blog and SWA!!!
Leah4
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Tom, I hope you do fly Southwest! It's my favorite airline & I still want to try again to work for them some day. 🙂
Kevin_Hudson
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Sorry guys, your explanation of 120/180 day inventory is not making much sense at this point because you're not booking flights past May 10, 2007. That's only 90 to 120 days for those of us who wish to fly in May or June. I personally have 6 flights to book for late May & early June, and Southwest is the ONLY airline that's not available for these dates. Your competition has got to be loving this. I will be booking all 6 flights on another airline if you guys can't get it together within the next 3 or 4 days.
Angie_B_
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Hey Hope, Sorry, I need to book Orlando for 12! Big family vacation. Air Tran is tempting me but no non-stop.
Jean12
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I understand your policy... my concern now is that we LOVE traveling Southwest, esp when we can get a direct flight... today is the 5th of February and we are traveling mid May .... two separate people... two separate trips one begining May 11th and one beginning May 14th .... It's alittle over 90 days and we still can't get our reservations!!!... we're getting really nervous and feel almost FORCED to purchase with another airline so we can secure our travels.... we check probably a dozen times a day for the times to open up .. and we're locked in to be e-mailed (DING).... anxiety regarding flights is not a good way to start.... please check into opening the time.... 6 months is understandable.... we're beyond that now.... thanks
blusk
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Thanks to all of you who have recently posted here. However, it looks as though many of you have missed some important information that Bill provided in his own comments. If you will scroll back up about 100 comments to comment 90, his January 30, 12:23 PM post, and he states that the schedule will open this week. So please be patient for a few days longer. Brian
Jeremy5
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Why is everybody so worried about seats being available? It's not like some people can purchase beyond May 10th and some can't. On Thursday @ 10:00am 100% of the seats will be available for purchase. In the end, SWA is doing this to save the customer money and make themselves more profitable. If they made tickets for sale like the legacy carriers do, you would be paying legacy carrier prices. I commend SWA for following their business model in order to keep money in my pocket and theirs.
Therese_Laskows
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Great, This coming Thursday....... Can't wait! Las Vegas Here I come. Thanks for keeping us posted, Bill.
Raider_Nation
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Bill, Please let me know when the schedule will be open to book through feb 3rd 2008. I need to buy a ticket to fly from oakland to phoenix to watch the raiders win their 4th superbowl. The silver and black will be back! Go Raiders!!!!!
Robert_Perino
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Brian, I have been extremely patient with you guys. To you and the guy that said we dont need to plan six months or 5 months in advance. Guess what? I just checked americans schedule for the flights I need for the end of may. They have now got 21 seats available on 1 flight and 17 seats available on another flight. I need 7 seats. See what can happen if you wait too long. I am sitting here banking that SW will have a better price and availability with no guarantee. If SW schedule had been open a month ago, I would have had about 50 seats on each of those AA flights as well as SW to choose from. Dont tell me that you can always book later if you need to. Sometimes you cant.
Bonnie2
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I need to book 16 tickets for a youth trip end of May into early June. I keep having this nightmare that the new schedule will post at midnight on the 8th but the group reservation agents do not start until 8:00 am....In my nightmare, I call at 8:00 am only to find out they sold out all flights between midnight and 8 AM!....does anyone know what time new schedules usually do post? LOL
Richard_Rumsey
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Why are you discontinuing service to PHL from BDL?
Jip
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I'm glad it's coming Thursday, but I will still stress that this doesn't make me a happy customer. I'd hope for Southwest's own sake that they don't drop the ball like this again. Some of us have plans to make.
Drew1
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Bonnie, Typically around 10 AM CST.
Trevor
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Dear SW, After lurking in this message board for several days I really hope, like many others, that the prices offered after the May 10th 2007 booking period will be 'well worth the wait'. Does anybody know if SW will offer an increased savings for reservations made on the 10th? That would make a lot of inconvenienced customers (ie. those who are upset enough to find this blog) very happy. Happy Travels! -Trev
Trevor
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Correction to my previous post, 'for those who book on the 8th of Feb.' not the 10th. -Trev
Meg
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Wow! Bill, you know your Broadway Shows! I stumbled across this website hoping to find an answer as to why I can't book 10 RT from OAK to LAS for a bachelorette party....needless to say I think there are several people wondering that! This scheduling stuff is tough for all of us wanting to Shuffle Off to Buffalo! Hang in there, I know you don't make decisions all on your own.... I still love SWA but may have to go with US Airways on this trip. Meg
FriendofBlogBoy
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Meg, Ummmm, ten bachelorettes? Perhaps Brian, our illustrious BlogMaster, could arrange a special charter to pick you ladies up and fly you wherever you want. Please forward pictures of the nine ladies and yourself and we'll talk. LMAO Kim 🙂
Don_Kessinger
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I just don't understand. I am a SWA fan, but how does letting your inventory run down to 91 days benefit SWA. SWA loses customers who can't wait to find out if the schedule or fare will be there for them in June/July and talk about all of the interest that could be made off of all those reservations sitting in the bank. I have a family cruise in June with family coming from 4 different cities. Coordinating arrival and departure times can't wait in the hopes that the schedule may be there or not, as well as the fare. So yesterday, $5987 of reservations went to UA and AA. SWA is my airline of choice on most occasions, but not this time.
Dan26
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Customers who are loyal and who appreciate the value that Southwest provides for its consumer base should keep the following in mind when determining who to fly with... Southwest is currently a shining light in the airline industry. How many airlines in the industry remain as profitable and as successful as Southwest? Not many. Part of the reason Southwest is able to provide us all with reliable, low prices is due to their energy risk management practices. Southwest is able to secure its costs months in advance by participating in the derivatives market and entering into forward contracts for energy products. So what - ? This means fewer big swings in their costs. This means more predictable pricing patterns. And it all boils down to being able to offer YOU good service at great prices compared to the other airlines. Southwest says let's lock in our costs so we can offer customers reliable travel at good rates. If that means limiting our scheduling availability, that's a necessary consequence in order to provide the service we desire. The other airlines? Let them book whenever they want - two years in advance? No problem! We need all the money we can get RIGHT NOW just to pay off our creditors and stave off another round of bankruptcy! Which kind of company do you want to fly with?
Colleen5
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Can't wait to finally be able to book my flight ..... thanks very much for having this blog and giving us answers to the questions that are most on our minds. It is fantastic to see the employees communicate to the general public. Thanks again .. great job !!!
Lynn_Shoemaker
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I work with a group that has traditionally booked 2 trips in May to national events held in Philadelphia. The two combined trips usually involve approximately 180 round trip tickets. We are going to have to book with another airline if these schedules for SW can not be released in the next few days. This will be a disappointment to all in the group, as we all prefer to use SW - however this delay is making it impossible to make our travel arrangements within an appropriate time frame.