Wow, that was a busy day! Last Thursday was Media Day 2010, where media representatives from all over the nation had access to our Officers. We filled their day with updates on major projects and breaking news.
We began the day in Freedom Hall here at Headquarters with a Brand Update from Kevin Krone. Kevin talked about the success and history of our Bags Fly Free campaign, emphasized our commitment to not charge change fees on tickets, and gave a look at our current “You Can Only Book on southwest.com” commercials. Kevin’s blog post recaps his presentation.
Although only four weeks have passed since the announcement that Southwest intends to acquire AirTran Airways, we received several questions during a panel discussion. The inquiries centered around how the two airlines would come together if approval is granted by various regulatory authorities. Until the acquisition is approved, Southwest and AirTran will continue to operate as separate organizations. Among other topics, Southwest Leaders EVP Strategy & Planning Bob Jordan, EVP & Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven, and SVP Administration & Chief People Officer Jeff Lamb reported on the initial meeting of the Integration teams from both airlines. They were clear that after only one month from announcing the agreement, there are still many answers to be determined. Here’s a quick recap from their session:
- A full story on the Integration Team Kick-Off in Dallas last week is now posted to LowFaresFarther.com, the official public site for information on the acquisition.
- Throughout the Integration Planning process, the focus remains on leveraging the best of both airlines and finding ways to integrate them to benefit all Customers once the deal closes. “We’ve been very impressed with the People, the spirit, and the innovations at AirTran,” Jordan said.
- Employees from both airlines are top of mind for the Integration teams, as they seek to understand how everyone can play a role in this exciting time in our history, Lamb said.
- The roll out of fleet-wide WiFi (via Row 44) on Southwest Airlines is continuing, as is our analysis of AirTran’s inflight connectivity system.
- Southwest and AirTran are excited at the possibilities of extending low fares farther into new markets around the country. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to serve more people in more places,” Jordan said.
- As stated previously, the intent is for Southwest’s popular Bags Fly Free policy to continue, and for the combined airline to not charge change fees.
- The discussion also turned to Southwest assumption that its open seating philosophy will continue. Jordan said the response from Customers to the prospect of acquisition has been “vastly positive,” acknowledging there are still “a lot of unknowns.” Noting that Southwest will need time to educate potential Customers about Southwest, “we want to assure them that they will get the same, or better, experience on Southwest than they would on another carrier.” Jordan referenced Southwest’s successful entry into key business markets such as New York LaGuardia, Boston Logan, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee where we had to win over new fans accustomed to such amenities as business-class and assigned seats.
- Citing Southwest’s position as the largest carrier in terms of Customers boarded, Jordan said, “We feel there are many benefits” to flying Southwest that new Customers will like. He noted business-traveler friendly programs such as Business Select (automatic checkin that allows for an early boarding assignment), A-List Membership (which allows for higher boarding priority), and FlyBy (dedicated) Security Lanes helping to smooth the transition to offer business travelers similar advantages to what they currently experience on other carriers. In fact, as Gary Kelly said later during Media Day, these new programs at Southwest have proved tremendously popular among business travelers.
- Also mentioned during the session, but relevant; Southwest’s Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program is being refreshed to offer exciting new benefits that would better allow for an expanded Southwest route system, among other enhancements.
After that, attendees toured our Operations Coordinator Center, and the highlight was a look at our Dispatch room, which is the operational heart of our airline. Then, it was off to lunch at one of our Maintenance Hangars.
The highlight of the lunch session was a panel with Bob Jordan, Robby Byam, Director Partnership Alliance, and two representatives from Volaris, Enrique Beltranena, CEO of Volaris, and Holger Blankenstein, their Chief Commercial Officer. The big news here is that, effective November 12, the International Connect page on southwest.com will begin offering connecting flights to Mexico with Volaris. Bill Owen’s blog post has more details.
WiFi was the after-lunch Media Day entrée. Dave Ridley and Brian Hirshman not only updated the progress of the WiFi installation on our fleet, they gave pricing details for the product—a flat $5.00 introductory fare for the installation period. (Some of the features like a moving map display will be free.) Our Boeing 737-700 fleet should be completely equipped with WiFi by the end of 2012. Check out Dave’s blog post for more information.
Then, everyone returned to Freedom Hall to hear Gary Kelly’s presentation. Our CEO took questions from the media representatives about the information they received during the day, and he also had some breaking news. Gary announced that we will begin service to Newark on March 27 with an initial eight roundtrips a day—six to Chicago Midway and two to St. Louis. Bill Owen has a post with details.
Thanks to all of the media representatives who attended this year for making this Media Day a success.