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June 13, 2024
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Southwest has been the darling of airline analysts for a long time. Perennially profitable and seen as hyper-efficient, the airline has somehow managed to maintain its “small” feel. Its people are marvelous – from in-flight crews to staffers.  The charm works on anyone following or dealing with the airline.

But as it has grown into what it is today, Southwest is starting to perform like any other airline. (It’s people remain marvelous though – credit the company’s corporate culture) They can’t hide the size anymore and it is starting to show operationally.  The sheer scale Southwest now brings to bear can be seen in these charts.  The source data is US DoT On-Time database and processed by AirInsight’s Data Service.

The first example is Boston where we compare Southwest’s departure taxi times with those of American.  In the table below the chart we display the average taxi minutes and number of flights for the period.  Note how as Southwest’s movements have increased out of Boston the airline’s performance has started to resemble that of American.  Big can’t be nimble.

Next at Denver we compare Southwest with United. Both airlines are flying about the same number of frequencies.  Southwest should be faster than United, right? The margin is surprising small.

Next take a look at Seattle where the big dog is Alaska Airlines.  The hometown airline has been improving its efficiency by cutting departure taxi times and Southwest has seen no equivalent improvements. Alaska is smaller and more nimble – and determined to protect its territory.

That said, there is another side of the data we need to recognize.  Southwest is at the bottom of all the charts; with a 2-3 minute margin at each airport.  Everybody uses the same type of airplane, and from the same airports, we’d expect taxi times to be similar.  But it is the little details that make a difference.  Multiply Southwest’s fleet of 560+ airplanes by 6 daily departures and the 2-3 minutes of lower taxi time adds up quickly.  This indicates that they are saving 141 hours per day over the fleet, or 51,556 hours per year at 2.5 minutes and 6 departures per day for a fleet of 560 airplanes . Since a typical airliner flies 3,500 hours per year, that’s equivalent to 15 more airplanes in the fleet.

3 thoughts on “As Southwest grows it becomes like other airlines, or does it?

  1. To succeed it is not to be 100% better than your competitor in one area but 1% better in 100 areas

  2. Taxi times are a function of collective congestion effects. Turn times are the charm. Occasionally tarnished, but Southwest still has the charm.

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