How Southwest Airlines plans to soothe business customers soured by holiday meltdown

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Southwest Airlines is continuing its push to win back customers left wary by the airline’s epic holiday meltdown stranded millions of travelers all over the country.

This time, CEO Bob Jordan’s apology went out to a group it’s been trying to woo throughout the pandemic – business travelers.

During a town hall Monday, Jordan discussed the holiday fiasco with several other Southwest executives and described what the company is doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again. He said none of the carrier’s priorities are “revolutionary,” but instead are aimed at improving the flying experience.

“We’re still restoring our network from pre-pandemic,” Jordan said. “It involves adding features that we know that you and your customers want. Things like power ports on the aircraft, larger bins, additional functionality on the application.”

Bigger bins means more places for bags on board, fewer gate-checked bags, less time on the ground and more time in the air, said Ryan Green, Southwest executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

The company will add ports into all of its new aircraft – a must-have for business travelers – and will transition to USB-A and USB-C ports in its Boeing 737 Max jets, Green said.

“Quite frankly, we just haven’t had the product over the last couple of years that we want or we need and so we’re making the investment to upgrade hardware,” Green said. “We’re through about half of the existing fleet here. We’ll get the rest of the existing fleet done between now and summer.”

Months before the holiday meltdown, Southwest rolled out a referral program for small and medium-sized businesses, giving 25,000 rewards points per company for funneling other firms into the its managed travel system. The carrier used the program as a way to capture a hard-to-reach audience, just as it was pivoting out of the pandemic’s economic downturn.

In 2021, Southwest inked a distribution deal with Southlake-based Sabre Corp., where thousands of business travel planners can see Southwest routes pop up on their screens when booking trips for employees instead of having to compare against Southwest.com.

As for making things right with holiday travelers, Green said the company had most bags returned to customers within a week and has handled about 93% of reimbursement requests from flyers who had to book hotel rooms, rent cars or buy tickets on competing airlines.

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