In a timely announcement, given it has just won the 2022 J.D. Power Award for Highest Customer Satisfaction among Economy carriers in North America, Southwest Airlines has announced the next steps in its plan to enhance its customer experience. The airline plans to invest more than US$2 billion in enhancing and simplifying the customer journey, all the way from booking, to the airport, to the inflight experience. The investments are included in the airline’s five-year annual targets through 2026 for operating costs and capital spending.
The inflight investments will include enhanced wi-fi connectivity, in-seat power ports for charging personal devices, larger overhead stowage bins, and a wider range of not just IFE content, but also refreshments.
Also refreshing was the rather non-corporate announcement by CEO, Bob Jordan: “You can never stop working to get better, and as our beloved Founder Herb famously said, ‘If you rest on your laurels, you’ll get a thorn in your butt!’” He added that the major investments in the Southwest experience are intended to please existing customers and win new ones.
Beginning with the connectivity investments, Southwest is upgrading the wi-fi equipment on its existing fleet, with its long-standing provider, Anuvu, supplying its latest-generation hardware. This equipment should enable a significant improvement in wi-fi speeds and bandwidth, with the airline anticipating up to a 10-fold increase compared to the hardware currently onboard.
Southwest plans to have the latest Anuvu hardware onboard 50 in-service aircraft by the end of May, with a further 350 aircraft in the pipeline for upgrades by the end of October. The airline is currently testing the upgraded wi-fi equipment on some routes over the western mainland US, with passengers offered free access to the services so the engineering teams and Anuvu can assess how the upgraded equipment performs with a large number of customers using the equipment simultaneously.
Alongside its relationship with connectivity provider Anuvu, Southwest also recently entered into an agreement with Viasat, a leading satellite connectivity provider, to provide high-quality internet and live TV programming onboard its newly delivered aircraft, beginning in autumn 2022.
Power at every seat
Almost every passenger will be travelling with a personal electronic device, whether a smartphone, tablet or e-reader, so Southwest’s plan to install USB-A and USB-C power ports on every seat in the aircraft will be welcome. And there is no downside, as the airline will be fitting a space-efficient system that does not eat into legroom. The charging ports will be onboard Southwest’s Boeing 737 MAX aircraft fleet beginning in early 2023.
“The ability to keep your devices charged while you are connected inflight is a request that we’ve heard consistently in ongoing conversations with our customers,” said Tony Roach, Southwest’s VP of customer experience and customer relations.
And there are more treats in store…
As a complement to its ‘Bags Fly Free’ policy that gives every Southwest customer the option to check two bags free of charge (weight and size limitations apply), the carrier is fitting larger overhead stowage bins, which will help make more room in the cabin for carryon items, and make them easier to store, access and retrieve onboard. The larger overhead bins will be on aircraft deliveries beginning early next year.
Southwest is also investing in new functionality for its digital platforms and airport kiosks so they can handle common requests without tying up staff and help passengers move more efficiently from kerb to gate. By late summer 2022, customers will be able to purchase Upgraded Boarding A1-A15 positions (when available) on their mobile devices without standing in line at the airport.
The airline recently added lap-child check-in at self-service kiosks, and also plans to offer the ability to add lap child travellers when booking online. By introducing more self-service options, Southwest is working to reduce wait times with improved and simplified online change functionality – which also reduces the need for customers to call to make flight changes, shortens call hold times, and frees-up more time for customer representatives to attend to specialised hospitality and customer service.
An additional fare, named ‘Wanna Get Away Plus’, is expected to become available later this month, bringing a new ability to transfer travel funds and to confirm a same-day change to an available seat on a different flight between the same origin and destination, without a change in base fare.
Mixing it up
And last but not least, Southwest is adding to its beverage selection this summer, beginning with a Bloody Mary Mix, followed in September by a ready-to-drink cocktail, alongside new options of Hard Seltzer, and rosé wine. Southwest will also enhance its IFE portal to more than double the number of free movies currently available by end of year, and in late May will update the flight tracker to provide 3D views that offer aircraft information and customised destination guides based on flight itinerary.