Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Only Friendly Skies

Finally, I have found some good news in the business world to report. Amidst the game of Jenga that is the U.S. economy, it's nice to see that Southwest Airlines is still doing pretty well. Gary Kelly, CEO since 2004, is interviewed in this article and seems to have a pretty fair strategic outlook. A few encouraging remarks:

The airline's chief executive is adding flights to heavily trafficked domestic airports and seeking cross-border alliances with foreign carriers. He's also considering adding on-board Internet surfing and more-extensive wine and coffee service.

But Mr. Kelly says adding full-scale meals remains off the table. And Southwest, the largest U.S. discount carrier by revenue, remains steadfast against charging customers for checking in suitcases and using pillows, as rivals have done.

"Adding fees is not the way to grow the airline," Mr. Kelly says in an interview at the company's headquarters here. "Customers hate that stuff."

Oh, you noticed that, huh?

Last week, true to discount roots dating to 1971, Southwest launched a summer fare sale on domestic flights, with one-way prices as low as $49. As in the past, major competitors were forced to follow suit.

By keeping costs low with simple operations, Southwest has booked 36 straight years of profit and flies more passengers within the U.S. than anyone else. Southwest is the only major U.S. airline to enjoy an investment-grade credit rating.

What I love about Southwest is that they succeed repeatedly by responding to market reality, while their competitors repeatedly fail and run to either bankruptcy court or worse, the government. They foresaw the spike in oil prices last year, and hedged against them (of course, that same hedge hurt them when oil prices plummeted in the fall.)

Basically, it's just nice to see successful firms come out of what is a mind-bogglingly success-starved industry.

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