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

Ask Cranky, Southwest

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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23 comments on “Why Doesn’t Southwest Fly Redeyes? (Ask Cranky)

  1. Hmmm, interesting. I never new that about Southwest. However I am a little surprised that with Southwest’s rapid growth in the past several years they would at least invest in more advanced computer systems to handle such things as code sharing, redeyes & the like even if they don’t do them at the present time.

  2. This didn’t really answer the question at all. Okay: Southwest has some technical problem with red-eyes. They could solve it if they wanted to, but they don’t. Well, why not? You make the argument that red-eyes would probably be profitable. Is that wrong? Or is there some other reason that Southwest avoids them?

    1. Grichard – When it comes to tech, Southwest can’t fix anything quickly. My guess is that this project is just so far down the list, that it’s not worth thinking about at this point. There are bigger fish to fry.

  3. I was under the impression that the SWAPA & IAM contracts, for pilots & FAs respectively, have so many limiters & caveats on red eye ops that it negates economic feasibility.

    At my airline, your FD crew on that 0030 LAS- XYZ push may have come off a 14 hour ‘daylight’ layover. The FAs duty day may have started earlier that night in SFO or SEA (more duty time to work with). I believe WN crew CBAs don’t give that kind of leeway to maximize efficiency.

    If any WN folks know the facts please enlighten us :).

  4. Yes. This is unacceptable that southwest systems don’t support red eye. Sometimes we need it to the east coast or to connect. Another instance where in the airline industry rather than the customer is the boss. Time to re regulate to have real service instead of the typical profit maximization.

  5. it’s just a matter of time before they start them….anyway they can squeak more usage time out of a plane, they will..
    they can add a late bank to the west coast and an early bank back to Dallas and keep the plane going from sun up
    to sun down and all through the night….

  6. Hmm. Years ago Southwest said they didn’t do redeyes because they would have to add a 3rd dispatching shift.

    I presume that would entail having a representative from each department (emergency management, etc) present all
    night in their flight operation center. That would be 20+ people just sitting around being paid to be ready to handle any
    situation that may arise for a few redeyes.

    This sounds more realistic because — especially in the ATL case, they frown on connections from ATL anyway now.
    They rebanked it to be Point to Point and dropped a lot of towns AT used to connect in ATL to. So not sure why they
    are making a big deal out of not being able to handle connections from redeyes well. I say its labor costs.

    1. Figure you’d have to be. Between a flight that gets in at 12:15am pacific (3:15 am eastern) and the first east flights out at 6 am or so those three hours don’t give much wiggle room. Especially if there are IROPS that foo bar things.

      Sent from my computer that moonlights as a phone. Please forgive any misspellings or terseness.

      1. Exactly. Good OTP day maybe an hr to collect our thoughts IROPS day just rolls into the next. West bound flights arriving at 4 central while eastern originating crews are starting to report

  7. I have a few friends that fly for WN. Although their contract doesn’t not allow for redeye flights, they are VERY well compensated, I believe it’s almost double or triple their normal rate.

  8. If you look at redeye flights historically, they tend to fill one (or more) of three basic roles for the airlines.

    1) Repositioning – Flying overnight moves the aircraft from where it ends “normal” operations to where it’ll be needed in the morning.

    2) Demand – There’s actually passenger demand for the flight. A look at the old DL Song LAX-BDL service was a good example of this. A true redeye (it departed at 10pm and arrived about 6am), load factors averaged 80%+, in part because this was the only nonstop between these two cities.

    3) Utilization – The planes aren’t doing anything else. Take a look back at HP’s LAS hub operations back in the 1990s. They essentially operated a whole day’s operations, centered on the LAS hub, between 10pm and 6am, then those same planes spent their days hubbing in PHX and CMH.

    If you look at WN, you can discount #1, as their route structure favors multi-point, all day, pairings of aircraft and crew. You can also discount #3, as although contracts now allow for redeyes, they cost the airline a lot in labor, not to mention taking those workers out of service for the rest of the day. That leaves #2. As the article notes, WN just don’t see the demand. Again, I think a big part of this is traceable to WN’s route structure. The flights where a redeye would be most appealing to customers are longer flights and WN just don’t really do very many of those.

  9. I was surprised to find that out about Southwest. I have been considering redeye flights lately and have always loved Southwest. I guess I may have to look elsewhere. I sure do not understand why Southwest is having problems with technological limitations. Other airlines are doing it.

  10. Yeah, pilots are robots. What could go wrong? They have a little button that turns them off during the day and magically are fresh and awake when they’ve taken off at 9pm, gone somewhere, flew back and landed at 9am. They are all chatty and fresh; making no mistakes; missing no calls; and their eyelids don’t drop for a second at 3am-7am. Their eyes aren’t blurry either. They never take a “micro-nap”. Think about that – next time you are sitting in the back. Two days before – they were probably flying during the day – but it’s the money. The Money. What could go wrong? As long as it’s convenient for you – why should you worry? Because you do it all the time & its not problem for you?

    1. There are many many red eye flights flown every day. The evidence to the contrary is that they’re safe.

      Some people actually work better in the evening and night, those pilots likely self select into red eye flights.

  11. I’m sticking with Delta. We don’t fly anything less than Business/First so, when that isn’t an option, price is of no concern; or better, saving money is of no concern when there is nothing but coach. And these are not business flights. My wife and I fly numerous times each year, including internationally, and this business model no longer fits for us. We have, in times past, flown Air Tran and really enjoyed it because they offered a business class at a very respectable price point. But, alas, those days are gone. Southwest is more than welcome to handle those interested only in saving money and those families who might not be able to fly under any other scenario. I know this sounds bad, and my comments are not meant in that regard, but Southwest has nothing to offer us.

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