Travel Notes: Southwest’s on-time performance nose-dives

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If your last Southwest Airlines flight was late, you are not alone.

On-time performance of the nation’s largest domestic carrier has deteriorated over the past year, dropping from 81 percent of all flights arriving on time in 2013 to 70 percent for the first five months of 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Southwest says the drop in its on-time rate was caused by scheduling too many flights at the most popular takeoff times. To squeeze in the extra flights, Southwest began last year to shorten the time set aside for flying and for loading and unloading passengers.

That tactic left little cushion for the airline to keep on schedule in the event of unforeseen problems, such as foul weather.

“We wouldn’t have made quite these changes if we thought it would have had this kind of impact,” said Steve Hozdulick, senior director of operational performance for the airline.

To fix the problem, Mr. Hozdulick said, Southwest is adding more cushion time to the schedule, starting in August, in an effort to improve its on-time rate to about 83 percent by the end of August.

Recent flight delays are down to 15 to 25 minutes, he said.

That may not appease passengers on Southwest’s late flights.

“Thanks @SouthwestAir for making it so I get home five hours late!!! I will never cheat on @Delta again!” Bess Pearson, a Southwest passenger from Tennessee, said in a Twitter post last week.

On Facebook, Steve Althoff of Florida, said: “I hate Southwest Airlines. 2 hours late and no plane in sight.”

Project Luvseat

Would you wear a shoe that has already traveled hundreds of thousands of miles?

That’s not such an outrageous idea under a charitable program announced last week by Southwest Airlines.

The Dallas-based carrier launched “Project Luvseat,” in which 43 acres of leather from hundreds of old airline seats will be donated to charitable groups in Kenya to make soccer balls, purses and shoes.

The airline has lots of excess leather since it began two years ago to install new seats with thinner backrests covered in a lighter synthetic material. The new seats are part of a redesign to cut about 600 pounds from the weight of each cabin and fit about six more seats per plane.

Southwest has already sent two shipping containers full of leather to Kenya and has 14 more containers waiting in Dallas. Samples and test pieces have already been created, and a paid training program began last week to show workers in Kenya how to turn the leather into products.

“With the amount of leather we have, we anticipate that this will be a long-term effort over the next couple of years,” said Southwest’s Marilee McInnis.

Airlines flush with fees

The latest study on passenger fees collected by the world’s airlines reached a predictable conclusion: Airlines are pocketing more than ever.

The annual tally by IdeaWorksCompany, a Wisconsin-based consultant to the airline industry, found that 59 airlines collected $31.5 billion in fees in 2013, compared with $27.1 billion for 53 airlines in 2012.

More surprising, the study said the practice of charging extra fees to check bags, upgrade to roomier seats and collect loyalty reward points, among other charges, has spread to nearly every carrier in the world.

One of the last holdouts, British Airways, began last year to charge a checked-bag fee for short-haul flights from Gatwick Airport. The fee generated $77 million in 2013, the study said.

But passenger frustration may have forced some airlines to pull back on the charges.

One of the innovators of passenger fees, low-cost RyanAir from Ireland, recently lowered some charges and allowed passengers to bring a small second carry-on bag into the plane at no charge to improve its penny-pinching image.

“They have had a change of heart,” said Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorksCompany. “They realized they can make as much money without being annoying.”


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