While Southwest so far has indicated that it will eliminate the business class cabin from AirTran’s fleet, I have opined that I have serious doubts that a single-class, fully integrated Southwest/AirTran will ever see the light of day. Seems some perky AirTran fliers have decided to try their best to swing Southwest CEO Gary Kelly’s mind in the direction I’ve suggested. In this article, a group of AirTran customers calling itself “Save Our Seats” is petitioning Southwest to retain AirTran’s front cabin. While Southwest so far has indicated that it will eliminate the business class cabin from AirTran’s fleet, it is clear that such a decision could run into headwinds.
Why? In recent years, Southwest has intentionally broken from its original model of stimulating flying in secondary airports by offering lower fares because this model had met its strategic end. Now, notwithstanding the “Save Our Seats” crowd, by virtue of entering into markets such as Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, and La Guardia (and now Atlanta) Southwest is subject to the demands of a business demographic that was not part of its equation for its first several decades. High yield, last-minute passengers from the business centers in the Northeast are used to in-flight wi-fi, first or business class options, hot meals, and international destinations. While Southwest may not be ready to fly 737s to Dublin, the rest of the amenities can be integrated into Southwest’s model – especially since AirTran’s fleet already is fully outfitted with these same amenities. If history is any lesson, Delta learned the hard way with its airline-within-an-airline “Song” that business passengers want their big lazy boys in the sky regardless of how nice the rest of the airplane is.
Southwest fans should be watching this story closely. While that carrier’s leadership seems to be leaning toward the cattle car loading approach of traditional Southwest, a deeper look into Southwest’s changing business model appears to make that decision somewhat dubious. And if the “Save Our Seats” crowd has its say, that decision could also become risky.
Time will tell.