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Can Southwest regain passengers’ trust?

Matt Levin Dec 30, 2022
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Southwest Airlines travelers search for their suitcases Wednesday at Denver International Airport. In the past week, the carrier canceled more than 16,000 flights. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Can Southwest regain passengers’ trust?

Matt Levin Dec 30, 2022
Heard on:
Southwest Airlines travelers search for their suitcases Wednesday at Denver International Airport. In the past week, the carrier canceled more than 16,000 flights. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
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Southwest Airlines had a better day Friday. Flight cancellations at the Dallas-based carrier were in the double digits, according to FlightAware.com, down from quadruple digits Thursday. Quite an improvement, considering the 16,000 flights Southwest canceled over the past week, as storms exposed its reliance on outdated scheduling technology. 

Across social media, stranded passengers are vowing to never fly Southwest again. So how seriously should the company take those vows?

Catherine McAvoy was supposed to fly Southwest from Denver to Minneapolis on Wednesday.

“We woke up Tuesday morning, my husband and I, to a notification that our flight had been canceled. So Tuesday afternoon we packed up, got in the car and then drove,” she said.

After spending the night in Nebraska, they made it to Minnesota. Luckily the roads were fine. Although it was definitely inconvenient, McAvoy said, she’d still fly Southwest again. She’s a fan.

“It’s usually a good airline to use — the number of options, as well as price,” she said. “So we’ve been a customer for at least five, six years consistently.”

“They can’t ever let this happen again, but in terms of their reputation with consumers, Southwest is going to recover from this week,” said Gary Leff, who runs View from the Wing, a popular travel blog. 

Yeah, it’s a bad look for Southwest, being the only airline to have such massive problems this holiday season, he said. But consumers have short memories. JetBlue had a similar meltdown back in 2007, when an ice storm wrecked the airline’s operations for a week.

“Their reputation recovered as well,” Leff said, adding that we might expect some discounted fares in the next few months as Southwest tries to repair its relationship with its core customer: the budget-conscious leisure traveler. 

But cheaper flights, and those mea culpa drink coupons, may not satisfy business travelers. That’s a market Southwest has aggressively pursued in recent years with features like better Wi-Fi and bigger luggage bins. 

“The reputational impact could push business travelers away that really care about just being on time,” said Scott Forbes, who researches the airline industry at Jefferies. 

On the plus side, though, fewer business travelers could mean that joining Boarding Group A may finally be easier than getting a Taylor Swift ticket through Ticketmaster. 

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