Southwest’s Schedule Will Start Varying More Each Day of the Week


If you call in to Southwest’s reservations line today, you’ll get a message telling you that if you’re traveling before May 9, press 1. If you’re traveling on or after May 9, press 2. That may seem quirky, but it’s actually a monumental day. It’s the day Southwest has all of its flights operating on its new reservations system. After that day, Southwest will have a lot more flexibility with, among other things, its flight scheduling, and we’re already seeing some of that creep into the future schedules.

Southwest has been running on an incredibly old reservations system for decades. In fact, it evolved out of Braniff’s Cowboy system. For those who don’t know ancient history, Braniff went under in 1982. Of course, the original system isn’t recognizable. Southwest slowly cobbled together bits and pieces to create a barely functional system that severely limited the airline’s ability to do simple things… like running different schedules on each day of the week.

Originally, airlines schedules were far more static than they are now. Southwest used to run one schedule Sunday through Friday and then a separate schedule on Saturday. That’s pretty much all the system could handle until later years when I believe some variation was introduced to Sunday schedules as well.

When Southwest took over AirTran and started flying internationally, it found itself in a lot of markets that were well-suited to what’s called “day-of-week” flying, or flights that only operated on certain days. Thanks to a host of other limitations, Southwest never tried to run its international operations in the old system. It contracted with Amadeus to use its Altea system instead. Altea has much more versatility than the old system, but then again, so does a rock.

Having operated international flights on that reservation system for awhile now, Southwest finally made the decision to migrate its domestic operations over to the same system. This should have happened years and years ago (not necessarily Amadeus, but… anything), yet it kept being pushed off. Now we’re finally nearing the switchover. It shouldn’t be a big issue for travelers. Southwest has already built the systems to interface with Amadeus for international travel, and I don’t expect there to be many hiccups. But it does mean Southwest has a whole suite of new tools it can use to do things that seem routine for most airlines.

I’m sure we’ll get into many of those other benefits down the line, but right now I’m focusing on this ability to vary schedules. Why? Because there’s more coming.

Southwest clearly has an interest in this. I noticed that right before the switchover, Southwest will begin flying New Orleans to Columbus on Sundays. That may not be all that odd since Sunday variations do happen. But it was the additional announcement of New Orleans to Raleigh/Durham on both Fridays and Sundays that I found interesting. I haven’t had a chance to look at a schedule database, but has anyone seen Southwest run a pattern like this domestically before? I can’t remember it.

What really matters is that there is going to be much more opportunity to do this with much greater ease going forward. Hopefully Southwest doesn’t abuse this new-found power and turn into United, where every day of the week, flight times and flight numbers change so there’s no consistency. But this kind of flexibility in scheduling will help Southwest to fly some markets that may not have made sense under the previous system restrictions. I’m looking forward to this… and many other changes.

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22 comments on “Southwest’s Schedule Will Start Varying More Each Day of the Week

  1. Seems surreal that they (and you) feel the need to announce a change they should have made years (if not centuries) ago !…

  2. I’m flying out of PWM today under a weather advisory. My final destination connects at BWI (as almost all SWA flights out of PWM do). I tried to leave for BWI last night before the storm hit, overnight in Baltimore at my own expense, and catch my scheduled leg to PHX the next day. But the reservations agent wouldn’t change the schedule because that flight plan is considered to be two one way fares. Usually, SWA provides great service and flexibility – that’s why I like to fly them. Was my request unreasonable – or was it due to their ancient reservations system?

    1. If ever you get an answer you don’t like call again and get another agent. It often times works. The only thing that may be messing you up is if you bought the tickets at different times with two different confirmation numbers.

    2. Andy – It’s true. And there are a whole host of other limitations. For example, if you’re on a flight right now, they can’t modify any other part of the reservation. So we’ve had a client who sat on the ground for a long time and was going to misconnect. Can’t touch it. Or if the outbound flight is in the air and you need to change the return, have to wait.

  3. I’m curious to see if they’ll use this system to go to smaller domestic cities on a sub-weekly basis. Although it will be nice to see them connect cities that don’t need a daily nonstop frequency PIT-SLC for example.

    1. I would think opening a new city (with a point of sales, baggage handling, …) might not be profitable enough for a few flights per week. Unless the airport is taking care of everything (but i don’t know if that’s done in the US where gates are “owned” by the airlines).

      1. Chris says: “(but i don’t know if that’s done in the US where gates are “owned” by the airlines).”

        That’s not true. While airlines may have long term leases of concourses and gates at some airports there are other airports where gates are not leased and airlines pay for the use of them on a per use basis. Miami started airport-controlled non-leased gates in 1977 when the new E-Satellite opened and as existing long term leases expired on other concourses MIA took back the gates which are assigned on a per flight basis. The last airline concourse/gate lease at MIA expired when Eastern died in January 1991.

        Airport-controlled gates had tremendous benefits at MIA because upstart airlines and existing airlines starting service to MIA could get gates at the same price as everyone else instead of having to pay rip off rental rates to airlines with long term leases on gates. Air Florida would have died years before they did if they had been paying rip off prices to another airline with leased gates at MIA. Many other airlines benefited from airport-controlled gates at MIA over the years since 1977 where the playing field is equal for everyone.

        While MIA doesn’t provide ground handling or ticket counter services, etc., airlines are free to pick one of several authorized aeronautical service companies to handle anything an airline could need or want. Since the airport is county owned and operated most employers, including the service companies, have to pay an established “living wage” and benefits to their employees, which is substantially more than the minimum wage.

        1. Correction on the above: the last airline gate lease at MIA expired when Pan Am died in December 1991.

  4. By the way, like the paste of the Braniff logo, even if many will not remember it !…
    You’ll have to do a history piece on Braniff and their odd scheduling (operating the Concorde, flying a single 747, …).

    1. They ran a single 747 “Great Pumpkin” on the DFW-HNL route for a long time, but eventually added several more for international service. When fuel prices spiked this combined with low load factors was a factor in their undoing.

      I once lucked into a repositioning flight from MIA to DFW. Six passengers total on a 747.

  5. The kind of schedule flexibility by day of week and season that WN is gaining is absolutely essential to fly to heavily leisure-oriented Caribbean/Latin America destinations. It also will do wonders to help them reduce flying on their existing routes during off-peak periods – such as Florida on non-holiday Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

    1. I fly to Florida on WN pretty much year round, and I can tell you the flights from AUS, HOU and DAL are always above 90% regardless of the time of the year. Maybe they won’t need six flights a day on their Midway – FLL run on Wednesdays during August, but there are plenty of business markets that can support three flights.

  6. I’ve used Amadeus once upon a time. Amadeus is the GDS (travel agent) portion of the Altea system. It has great functionality for automated ticket exchanges which should make the WN reps happy. Altea also has very advanced functionality for code shares and interlineing which WN probably will never use. HOWEVER one of the biggest selling points is that Amadeus/Altea is just fabulous at selling ancillary items such as preferred seat assignments, bag fees and just about anything an airline can imagine. I think that is what Cranky alluded to when he mentioned WN becoming more like UA.

  7. Funny how you ended talking about United. U.S. carriers are good for changing flight numbers and times all the time. But foregin carriers almost never change a flight number. A flight number in a market 6 months ago, will still be the same 6 months from now.

  8. Way back in 1985 (or ’86?) the agency I was managing in PHX was one of the first to have WN install their proprietary POS. No more phone calls! Due to volume, we ended up needing two terminals and two recent travel school grads to run the show.

    Geez I am eff-g old…

  9. There are still quite a few hiccups in the new reservation system. It took my travel credit and gift cards when I tried to book a ticket past May 9th but gave me no ticket. Had a fun call with an agent saying the funds were tied to someone else’s name.

    Anyway they fixed it and I got a follow up call. They said sorry for the issue, still don’t know how it occurred but ya. They did say the new reservation system can only accept 3 forms of payment per passenger which is interesting to note. I used 3 forms when I tried. Hope we see more features like the ability to save other passenger information and track travel funds easier. Day of week flights should allow WN to enter more international markets .

  10. Today, Thursday 2/16,WN did not run the first originator to BWI like every other weekday. And the first inbound from BWI also did not run. It was a change only for today. As the person comparing schedules I have noticed more and more of these small changes. WN is already doing these one off schedule changes.

  11. I’ve also been noticing this change to Southwest schedules crop up in recent months. I fly Austin to Ft. Lauderdale a lot on Southwest, and not only do the number of flights per day change, but the times change. (Similar to the United Schedule to Newark).

    Airline execs who don’t study second tier markets closely enough (including Austin, San Jose, New Orleans and Nashville) don’t seem to fully understand how much business traffic these cities generate. I do meetings all over the world, and I see the effect shrinking schedules can have on what could be some very profitable markets. We’ve had to stop holding meetings in New Orleans, for example, because I can’t get everyone home after 5:00 PM on a weeknight, let alone a weekend when leisure travelers (who can reserve months in advance) are flying. Of course they have more data than I could ever hope to have, but I’m never sure whether decisions are data driven as opposed to what “feels” right.

    Robert D Lipman Summit Management Services (512) 306-1084 Office (512) 423-0701 Mobile

    Address (Mailing): PO Box 162543, Austin, TX 78716 Courier (For All Deliveries): 2611 Stratford Drive, Austin, TX 78746

  12. Actually, there have already been quite a few issues with the transition. One major “hiccup” is that “fully-refundable” fares (Business Select, Anytime, Senior, etc.) will no longer remain fully refundable. If any change is made to a fully-refundable itinerary, you’ll lose the ability to get a refund if you later need to cancel. You’ll only be given travel funds (like Wanna Get Away fares). Southwest is blaming this change on the new system, and I suspect it will trip up many a customer. Related: You can no longer get a refund of the September 11 Security Fee, just travel funds. :(

  13. Thanks for the explanation. I was flying back to Denver from Mexico City via HOU earlier this year. After customs thought it’d be easy to jump on an earlier flight, and agent told me there was absolutely no way to do it, even if I paid – due to the Int’l / domestic tickets not being connected.

    Wasn’t a big deal, but seems that would put a ton of roadblocks in agents trying to help out in irrops. Hopefully that will solve it..

  14. Southwest embodies the statement: “the high cost of being cheap”

    I’m a pessimist, I expect this to not go well

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