Why Doesn’t Southwest Fly Redeyes? (Ask Cranky)

I’m on vacation all this week, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving you hanging. I have new posts ready to go on the usual schedule this week, including today’s post about the lack of redeyes on Southwest. I will be slower at approving any flagged comments and responding to any emails. I’ll be back as usual next Monday.

I think it’s time for another Ask Cranky question. This is one that I’ve been asked a lot over the years, and now I have a real answer. This particular one comes from an Atlanta-based traveler who is missing the old AirTran schedule, especially the overnight eastbound flights better known as redeyes.

I am very happy with Southwest except for one big thing: they have gotten rid of Airtran’s Ask Crankyredeye flights. In July 2014, I took a Southwest/Airtran redeye from LAS-ATL but have not found one since then from LAS, SEA, SFO, or SJC, so I’m stuck taking a more expensive Delta redeye back or flying Monday morning and missing half of the day or more. Do you have any insight as to why Southwest didn’t keep these flights or whether they have any plans to bring them back? In my experience, the midnight-departing flights are always full.

While it’s probably true that the old redeyes were always full, that doesn’t necessarily mean they made money. Though let’s be honest, they probably did. If the choice is to sit that airplane on the ground overnight or keep it flying, you don’t need that much revenue to justify running the flight.

But this issue goes far beyond Atlanta. It’s always seemed odd that Southwest doesn’t run redeyes anywhere in its network. I used to think that the airline’s ancient tech couldn’t handle a flight that departed one day and arrived another. But Southwest has plenty of flights that leave later in the day and arrive after midnight so that couldn’t be it.

I decided to turn to the expert, Richard West at Southwest. Richard is a true geek, and he helped with my post about aircraft registrations last year. I asked Richard if it was just a strategy or if there were technical issues as well. Here’s what he had to say.

It’s a little bit of both in terms of how we set up our schedule. On the technical side, there is nothing in our system that prevents us from operating a flight that spans two business days, and we frequently operate charter and maintenance flights based on operational or charter Customer’s needs. We have used software on the advanced scheduling side that was not originally built to accommodate redeye itineraries, primarily in the way connections are handled. There is an effort underway to have our scheduling system and all the downstream applications support selling redeye flying, but as of the moment we don’t have any immediate plans to start offering anything along these lines at the moment.

Aha, so there is a technological limitation. Though the way Richard puts it, it sounds like there just isn’t enough interest internally in running redeyes to prioritize the required tech work all that high. And we know Southwest has a lot of things to work on when it comes to tech.

So, bad news for you Andre, at least for now. Even worse news for you is that Southwest has dropped the Atlanta-San Francisco route entirely (replaced with Oakland). But hey, there is some good news. Spirit is building up Atlanta and it loves redeyes. In fact, there’s one in Vegas already.

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