Bill, thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and all the fascinating info you post here!
I realize one airline can't be all things to all people, but with the push for more business passengers I have to wonder: might scheduling add some "flight times and combinations need to make sense for business" constraints to the whiz bang software? I frequently find I have to get up early for a 7 am medium haul flight, and not get to my destination until after 1 or 2 pm. For a leisure trip that's frustrating; for a business trip it can be a deal killer.
Example: say I want to fly SAT-OMA and back on 4/2/09. First WN outbound flight of the day departs 7:10, arrives 2:15. Last WN return flight of the day leaves 2:45, arrives 10:40. That's 15.5 hours just for the air travel and the schedule doesn't give me enough time to buy a cup of coffee before having to board my return flight. Now look at CO. I do have to leave 25 minutes earlier to catch the first flight of the day, but I arrive almost a full three hours earlier, at 11:21. I can have a half day meeting with The Oracle, catch the last return flight of the day at 5:50, and arrive back in SAT at 10:10. That's a half hour ahead of WN 520/805, so total elapsed time is a wash, but time on the ground is 0:30 versus 6:29! I know you have nothing to do with pricing, but guess what? On top of the better schedule and not having to book a hotel room, CO is currently cheaper on both restricted and refundable tickets.
Applying a bit of geographic knowledge and mixing in some tidbits picked up from some SWA press release or billboard, I was able to figure out a way that I can stick with my favorite airline and still pull off my mid-range out-and-back on this particular day. I can book WN 471/276, OMA-DEN-SAT, departing 4:55 arriving 10:10. Even though that has a longer-than-ideal 1:25 connection time at DEN, at least I get 2:10 on the ground in Omaha, and once again beat WN 520/805 back to SAT by a half hour. As icing on the cake my total fare (restricted) goes down, I cover a shorter distance in the air, and my RapidRewards credits increase to three from two. (Why is DEN not used for connections on that route in lieu of or in addition to MDW?) The CO schedule is still better but at least I've closed the gap with an alternate connection point.
SAT-OMA isn't the only example of this problem in the SWA schedules. Furthermore, it certainly can't be attributed to the distance between the cities. I can FLY JFK-SFO out and back in 14:42 with 2:50 on the ground, or in 16:27 with 4:35 on the ground. That's over three times as far, has an even lower fare (restricted), and yields greater frequent flier earnings. If I go with the shorter of those two total trip times I still have more time on the ground than I have flying SAT-OMA-DEN-SAT on WN (and vastly more than using scheduled, published service).
I know how excited you get about your work and that's great! I'm thinking you'll have a blast working on cracking this nut. 🙂 If a good hint could spoil some of the fun (or if a bad hint could send you on a wild goose chase), you might want to skip the rest of the next paragraph. ;)
One thing I've noticed when trying to work around these problems on various routes: often the reason it takes so long to get where I'm going is that my incoming flight is scheduled to arrive a few minutes too late to be valid on the first possible connection (e.g. 25 minutes at a 30 minute connection airport, or 35-40 minutes at a 45 minute connection airport).
I know SWA is great for business travelers flying short-haul, but frequently when I'm booking mid-range or longer flights I notice that SWA flat out wouldn't work for a day trip (business or pleasure). It looks to me like a lost revenue opportunity, and selling more tickets seems as worthy a goal as keeping costs down...but of course I've only got the passenger perspective.
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