For the first time
in its 57-year history, Southwest Airlines is now planning to operate overnight
flights, the first being from Las
Vegas
and Hawaii .
While no formal date has been set for the launch of these late-night
departures, Southwest’s Chief Commercial Officer, Ryan Green, stated at the
Routes Americas 2024 air travel conference earlier this week that the carrier
is aiming to start them in around two years’ time, after working out some logistical
details. 

Overnight flights
are commonly called “Red-eye flights”, describing the appearance of passengers’
eyes after a missed night’s sleep, and are offered by most major airlines, with
Southwest being a conspicuous exception. They’re attractive to many travelers,
as they often come at lower fare prices than their daytime counterparts, and
allow West Coasters to leave after work hours and still arrive on the East
Coast in time for morning meetings. And, they’re beneficial for airlines, which
can generate more revenue by keeping planes in service during the hours they’d
otherwise be sitting idle on a tarmac. 

According to The
Washington Post
, Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport sees at least 26
overnight flights departing after 9:00 p.m. on nearly every U.S. airline that operates
in Sin City on a random Thursday night this month. Such flights are typically
more than four hours long and connect Las Vegas with such major metropolises as
Atlanta, Boston, New
York
and Washington
D.C.

While Southwest
Airlines has built a reputation for its unique approach to air travel,
including all-economy unassigned seating and complimentary checked bags, the
introduction of red-eye flights represents a significant milestone in its
evolution as an airline. 

One thing
Southwest is not known for is its technological prowess or being on the cutting
edge of aviation operations. After all, the massive Southwest
holiday meltdown of 2022
was ultimately attributed to its antiquated IT
infrastructure, which meant that disrupted flights had to be reassigned
manually and the airline simply couldn’t keep up with all the delays and
cancellations caused by extreme winter weather conditions. 

Prior to 2014,
Southwest’s reservations system was too limited to offer customers anything beyond
daytime flights within the U.S. But, a decade ago, it adopted a more modern system
from aviation IT provider Amadeus, which enabled it to start flying internationally.
Overnight flights first became possible once the new platform was fully
integrated in 2017, but the airline didn’t begin offering flights with
overnight connections until last July. 

Green disclosed
that he believes there’s a potential for Southwest to run approximately 50
red-eye flights per day. With operating costs up due to ongoing inflation and
new labor agreements, Green said, “We have to be maniacally focused on being
efficient,” adding that Southwest aims to grow, but without “adding to the cost
structure”. 

The addition of
overnight flights fits the bill, according to airline analyst Savanthi Syth, who
explained that adding red-eye flights will enable the carrier to expand without
the expense of purchasing new planes. “In the Hawaii-mainland U.S. market,
red-eye flight capabilities should enable more connections or just a better
schedule than Southwest can offer today,” she said.

 


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