How Southwest Decides An International Route Is Safe To Reopen

US budget carrier, Southwest Airlines recently resumed service to several international destinations, including Cancun and Los Cabos in Mexico, Nassau in the Bahamas, and Montego Bay in Jamaica. As the airline continues to resume international flights, it has also released a “COVID-19 Edition” of a video series called “Ask Gary.” In this series, the airline’s CEO, Gary Kelly, addresses the public and talks about specific relevant issues. July 8th’s version of “Ask Gary” discussed how Southwest Airlines decides if an international route is safe to open.

Southwest Airlines
Southwest has committed itself to offering complimentary social distancing until October 2020. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Airline CEO Gary Kelly stated the following regarding the resumption of international routes:

“A cross-departmental team has been meeting weekly, since late-March, when international borders started closing. They monitor the countries that are ready to start welcoming visitors back – as these are primarily leisure destinations for us.”

Kelly goes on to say that restrictions are different for each country. These are subject to change, providing the example of service resumptions to Havana, Cuba. Southwest had anticipated resuming Havana-service on July 1st. Unfortunately, it had to push this back to August 1st due to changing restrictions.

Three criteria

Kelly outlines three broad criteria which the airline uses to assess the suitability of resuming flights to any given international destination:

  1. Safety of people, crews, and customers: This is based on the safety measures at destination countries, which includes cleaning and hygiene protocols.
  2. Quality of customer experience: This includes actions that might be required before departure, as well as health screenings or local quarantine regulations. Kelly also adds that the availability of hotels, restaurants, and other activities for customers/tourists is a factor.
  3. The profitability of route: Any route resumed must help the airline to reduce its overall cash burn. Commercial teams have contingencies in place if local conditions aren’t conducive or the demand isn’t there. Thus, the airline can pivot and reduce flight its schedule to a destination if needed.

The third point regarding the reduction of flight schedules likely translates to “service cancelations and rebookings are possible,” which customers should be aware of and keep in mind as they plan vacations. This may require higher-than-normal flexibility in trip planning.

Airlines have been implementing enhanced cleaning procedures for their aircraft between flights. Southwest is no different. Photo: Southwest Airlines

The next international gateway: Phoenix on October 8th

Mr. Kelly concluded his “Ask Gary” segment by reminding the viewers that the airline is still on track to have Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) become its newest international gateway.

In March of this year, it was announced that Southwest would launch service from Phoenix to both Cabo San Lucas (SJD) and Puerto Vallarta (PVR), beginning October 8th.

MAX8 Southwest wing view
Southwest is an all-Boeing 737 fleet, which was significantly affected in 2019 due to the 737 MAX grounding. Photo: Southwest

And finally, Southwest Airlines hopes to resume service to all of its international destinations by early 2021. Hopefully, the airline will see enough demand to support these resumptions.

What do you think of Southwest’s decision-making process for international flight resumptions? Are they missing anything? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.