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Southwest Schedule Changes Have “Stopped the Bleeding”

Schedule adjustments have paid off for Southwest Airlines, and the carrier is making strides toward improving its on-time performance.

Improving on-time departures first thing in the morning, adding longer connection times and extra time to aircraft turns are three of the changes that are helping Southwest Airlines recover from a summer of operational snags.

The Dallas Morning News reports that after the carrier made schedule adjustments in August 2013, its on-time record — the percentage of flights arriving within 14 minutes of schedule — plummeted, taking it from one of the best-performing airlines to one of the worst. For the 12-month period that ended in July 2013, Southwest tied for last among 14 airlines ranked by the U.S. Department of Transportation, with only 71.1 percent of flights arriving on time.

Greg Wells, Southwest’s senior vice president of operational performance, told reporters in September of this year that scheduling decisions that led to the problems, stating:

In an effort to boost our revenue, we intentionally created 16 more airplanes’ worth of flying into our schedule without adding any planes to the schedule. In other words, we tightened up our network such that we could add more flying with the same amount of planes.

Southwest made schedule changes on August 10 to address reliability issues. Based on performance data collected during the 60 days since the changes were implemented, it seems that Southwest’s efforts are paying off.

Data from masFlight shows Southwest’s on-time performance has reached an average of 80 percent, as reported by Dallas News. This has also been helped by boosting connection times, which Wells explained had dropped to as little as 25 minutes for some passengers.

In addition, the airline once famous for its 10-minute turns — and 20-minute turns up until a few years ago — came to a realization. “We just realized with our load factor and large-gauge aircraft, that wasn’t feasible,” the Dallas News quoted Wells. “So the 20-minute turns went away.”

Overall, Wells said, Southwest is within its improvement goals to achieve 83 to 85 percent on-time performance. “We’re at about 84 percent,” he explained. “We’re not going to stop tweaking the schedule, tweaking our operation, [or] getting better at turning airplanes. But I think we’ve stopped the bleeding on what we created back in August of 2013.”

[Photo: iStock]

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sdsearch October 29, 2014

In my opinion, a more important metric than overall on-time performance would be evening on-time performance. For years, evening flights at Southwest have had much worse on-time performance than their competition, because they didn't have enough slack in the turn rates at the planes that kept turning and turning and turning all day, and by evening many of them were behind with no way to recover. So until I see some comparison of evening flights at Southwest now vs a couple years ago, I'm not confivnced it's really better.