Southwest Airlines Will Invest $2 Billion on In-Flight Upgrades

With leisure air travel bouncing back big time—and more corporate fliers buckling in again—Southwest is investing in "the next generation of customer experience" over the next five years. That includes everything from a new Bloody Mary mix to Wi-Fi upgrades, expanded entertainment, bigger space bins, flight flexibility and more.

Southwest Airlines sees “strong leisure bookings” for future travel in its most recent quarterly report, and it’s planning to invest billions to make the flying experience a little more enjoyable for flyers.

The Dallas-based carrier announced plans to invest $2 billion in “the next generation of customer experience” upgrades on its planes over the next five years.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan

“We have bold plans and significant investments to modernize and enhance the Southwest experience,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a statement. “As we continue to welcome back loyal customers and win new ones, these initiatives, combined with the best people in the industry, support our purpose of connecting people to what’s most important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Flight upgrades

Check out what the company is investing in below:

Wi-Fi upgrades: Southwest is extending its relationship with connectivity company Anuvu and adding Viasat as a new partner to boost Wi-Fi capabilities on flights. The company expects to install hardware on about 350 planes in its fleet by the end of October.

Power ports: These will be available in the Boeing 737 MAX aircrafts in its fleet, about 250 planes, Southwest is planning to install USB-A and USB-C power ports on every seat by early 2023.

Storage space: The company is planning to install Boeing’s “space bins” on the MAX aircraft in its fleet, which add up to 50% more carry-on storage space, according to USA Today. The company is expecting aircraft with the capability to be delivered early next year.

Expanded entertainment: By the end of the year, Southwest said it plans to enhance its entertainment portal and double the number of free movies available in-flight. It’s also planning to update its flight tracker to provide 3D views and flight information.

Beverages: Starting in September, Southwest is adding to its alcoholic beverage lineup a new bloody mary mix, a new “ready-to-drink cocktail,” hard seltzer, and rose wine.

Flight flexibility: While Southwest announced this in March, it re-teased the rollout of its newest fare type, Wanna Get Away Plus, which allows for same-day flight changes and the ability to transfer flight credits from cancelled flights.

Travel rebound

The announcement comes as Southwest reported seeing its first quarterly increase in operating revenue per available seat mile relative to 2019 levels since the pandemic began. It’s also seeing corporate travel revenue—where the bulk of its business comes from—at the level of 36% below where it was in March 2019. Amid the pandemic, Southwest, like other carriers, has been focusing on the leisure travel market, with the company adding 145 new routes since 2019—the most of any U.S. carrier.

Southwest expects to become profitable again by the end of the second quarter.

Hiring 10,000 employees

As it sees travel from both vacationers and businesses pick back up, Southwest is aiming to hire 10,000 employees, including 1,200 new pilots this year. It’s planning to add about 8,000 new employees each year for the next two years, industry-focused publication Skift writes.

It’s doing all this with a new leader at the helm. In February, Jordan took over the CEO role from Gary Kelley, who held the position for nearly two decades. The sixth CEO of the more than 50-year-old company, Jordan joined Southwest in 1988, most recently having served as the executive VP of corporate services.

“We remain intensely focused on our hiring and training efforts as we work diligently to restore our network and position the company for future growth,” Jordan wrote in Southwest’s most recent quarterly report. “While it has been an incredibly challenging period, we are greatly encouraged by the progress we are making and believe we are well-positioned for future growth and long-term success with our point-to-point network, low-cost and low-fare business model.”

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