“Slowly but surely, folks are starting to get back out there.”
That’s what Kyle Brown, Director of National Sales for Southwest Airlines, said during a recent virtual town hall webinar aimed at business travelers and corporate travel planners in Pittsburgh.
Brown said the two questions travelers have asked most frequently since the pandemic began in March are “What will the travel experience be like?” and “How are you going to keep us safe?”
Southwest and Pittsburgh International Airport teamed up to provide some answers during the hourlong webinar that highlighted a 15-year partnership between the airport and its largest carrier.
PIT’s Bryan Dietz, Vice President of Air Service Development; Vince Gastgeb, Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs; and Tyler Laughlin, Manager of Government and Corporate Affairs; joined the online panel on Wednesday, along with Dave Harvey, Vice President of Southwest Business, to discuss airport and airline safety initiatives and ongoing recovery from the pandemic.
“We take our relationships with our airline and corporate travel partners seriously, and our policy decisions are embedded in them,” Gastgeb said.
To build confidence in the health and safety of the travel experience, airports and airlines have implemented a number of safety protocols, as passengers slowly trickle back in.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been focusing on protecting the health and safety of passengers, employees and visitors, maintaining our operations, identifying smart cost savings and supporting our community,” Laughlin said, detailing the PIT Safe Travels program launched in May.
Dietz noted that Southwest, which currently has 140 employees at PIT and an average of 14 daily departures (down from 27 in October 2019), has been a key part of the airport and Pittsburgh region’s transformation over the past 15 years, and will continue to be a partner in its ongoing recovery.
While reducing about a third of available seats at PIT since March, Harvey said Southwest did not pull back as much as other carriers and is committed to returning those seats to Pittsburgh.
“We are expanding to some new airports, and we are starting to see our loads pick up,” he said. “Right now, our operation is running well.”
Southwest is adding seats in airports including Miami, O’Hare, Houston-Intercontinental and Palm Springs, but Harvey said that the airlines’ most precious resources are its people and its planes.
“We are working as hard as we can to put those to productive use and win more customers and revenue to Southwest…” he said. “We are not going to cut our way to profitability.”
When Southwest considers adding new flights, Harvey said one or two companies and the feedback they provide can lead to routes being considered.
Detailing Southwest’s commitment to safety—which the company calls “the Southwest Promise”—Harvey said the airline has made numerous improvements for travelers, including overnight electrostatic deep cleaning of aircraft, enhanced cleaning between flights and sanitization of high-touch surfaces like seatbelts and tray tables, changes in boarding and deplaning procedures, open middle seats through Nov. 30, and medical-grade HEPA air filters that provide a full exchange of fresh air every two to three minutes.