Your union says that for years, Southwest Airlines focused too much on investors and underinvested in operations. How do you respond to this criticism?
I’m often asked if we have outdated technology. We spend $1 billion a year on technology at Southwest Airlines. And, like every company, there’s always something brand new, like our maintenance system, and there’s always something you’re working on.
We have a very good operational improvement program. Crewing is an important part of this. If you look back at the last year, I think we put in eight new versions of SkySolver. We have employed 120 staff dispatchers. We lead the crew to schedule and realign themselves. I didn’t say for a minute that we were done or that enough was enough.
It’s not a single decision when it comes to shareholder issues. Our financial situation is very healthy. Because of this, we don’t have to choose between investing in technology or investing in shareholders. During the holidays, we collect perks, offer thank-you pay, and we make gestures of kindness for our employees as we do for our customers.
How do you regain your customers’ trust?
We have a 51-year history of running a very good airline with great service. That hasn’t changed because we had this event.
That doesn’t deny the fact that we screwed up. I think the best thing we can do is use this event as a catalyst to make us better. It’s a great company, but the best thing we can do for our customers is continue to deliver great products and invest in our products. You’ve seen us do all these things – we’re adding power ports and bigger litter boxes. Keep investing in them, keep running a good business, keep delivering fantastic hospitality, and do it even better.
Can you help us understand when do you know something is really wrong around Christmas?
We plan days in advance for storms, hurricanes — all those things. We observe operations on a daily basis; our leaders take many calls each day just to see how we are doing. On a typical day, I answer multiple calls a day. Everything is happening.