Southwest Airlines is “like a caged lion” as it prepares for the biggest period of growth in its history, VP Southwest Business Dave Harvey told Routes Americas 2022.
The LCC giant, which has almost 400 aircraft on order including 257 Boeing MAX 7 jets and 135 MAX 8s, will hire 25,000 staff by 2024. Its growth alone will be the same size as the current network of the proposed Frontier-Spirit merged entity, he said.
While the carrier will commit to the “sexy new cities” it has opened service to in the pandemic and is “thrilled” with the results, the growth is “more about restoring the core and those frequencies,” particularly as the business market comes back.
“The business passengers are coming back, and they want that frequency,” he said. Once the airline “gets staffed and gets our new aircraft online, that’s going to produce results.”
Harvey was bullish on the return of the business market, saying that Bill Gates’ prediction of 50% loss in the market is “dead wrong,” as companies will need travel to restore their culture and operations, while the changing workforce will increase demand.
“People want to work remotely and more flexibly. The road warrior might not travel as much but there is this new swathe of business traveler who will more than make up for that,” Harvey said.
“In operations such as recruitment and training, businesses haven’t found a good way to do that in the virtual space.”
Outlining what airports and destinations can do to support Southwest’s growth, Harvey said that access to the business community is critical in making network planning decisions.
“Our network planners are masters of analyzing data and demand trends with a rear view, but understanding where those entities are going from a front windscreen view will help us make better decisions,” he said.