Southwest Airlines Outlines $2 Billion Plan to Transform the Customer Experience

Southwest Airlines Outlines $2 Billion Plan to Transform the Customer Experience
© Southwest Airlines Co.

Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV), today awarded the 2022 J.D. Power Award for Highest Customer Satisfaction among Economy carriers in North America, announces next steps in its plan to bring the next generation of Customer Experience in travel with Southwest Airlines®, through more than two billion dollars in planned investments. These initiatives are designed to enhance and simplify Customers’ journeys—from booking trips, to traveling through airports, and while inflight—delivering an even more enjoyable, efficient, and productive Customer Experience.

On the ongoing journey to modernize the Customer Experience, Southwest revealed commitments to:

  • Bring enhanced WiFi connectivity onboard aircraft;
  • Install latest-technology onboard power ports to charge personal devices at every seat;
  • Offer larger overhead bins with more space and easier access to carryon items;
  • Launch a new fare category with added flexibility and value, Wanna Get Away Plus™;
  • Introduce more entertainment options and a wider selection of refreshments in the cabin; and,
  • Enable new self-service capabilities to bring elevated ease in doing business with Southwest, benefiting Employees and Customers.

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“You can never stop working to get better, and as our beloved Founder Herb famously said, ‘If you rest on your laurels, you’ll get a thorn in your butt!’ We have a long and proud history of offering Legendary Customer Service and warm Hospitality, and we have bold plans and significant investments to modernize and enhance the Southwest Experience,” said Bob Jordan, Chief Executive Officer. “As we continue to welcome back loyal Customers and win new ones, these initiatives, combined with the best People in the industry, support our Purpose of connecting People to what’s most important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

Commitment to Connectivity

“Top of our list is giving our Customers reliable connections in the air to those things that are important and accessible to them on the ground,” said Ryan Green, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. “We’re investing in our onboard connectivity and bandwidth available to each Customer with upgraded technology that’s now installing across our existing fleet, a strategy to diversify our WiFi vendors on upcoming aircraft deliveries, and plugging Southwest Customers into in-seat power to keep them charged while in the air.”

  • Southwest is upgrading WiFi equipment on its existing fleet with longstanding connectivity provider Anuvu’s latest-generation hardware capable of providing a significant improvement in speed and bandwidth up to 10 times the current hardware onboard.
  • Plans are for the Anuvu latest-generation hardware to be onboard 50 in-service aircraft by the end of May, with a projected 350 aircraft upgraded by the end of October.
  • Testing the upgraded WiFi equipment is now underway on some routes over the western mainland U.S. As part of the test, Southwest is offering free WiFi to all Customers on select flights to understand how the upgraded equipment performs with a large number of Customers using the equipment simultaneously.
  • Alongside its relationship with legacy connectivity provider Anuvu, Southwest recently entered into an agreement with industry-leading satellite connectivity provider Viasat to provide high quality internet and live television programming onboard newly delivered aircraft beginning in the fall of this year.

Southwest pioneered gate-to-gate connectivity in 2010, becoming the first major airline in the United States to offer satellite-based connectivity on domestic flights. The first generation technology brought free live TV, streamed on individual devices. The airline continues to heavily invest in its WiFi product aimed to meet Customers’ connectivity expectations.

Leaping to the Latest In-Seat Power

Southwest plans to install latest-generation onboard USB A and USB C power ports on every seat in the aircraft, with a space-saving system that will not compromise legroom. The airline plans to bring this new convenience and capability onboard 737 MAX aircraft beginning in early 2023.

“The ability to keep your devices charged while you are connected inflight is a request that we’ve heard consistently in ongoing conversations with our Customers,” said Tony Roach, Vice President of Customer Experience and Customer Relations. “With so much that our Customers love about doing business with Southwest, we’re constantly listening to our Employees and our Customers for improvement opportunities, and we’re excited to share some additional news and updates on this ongoing work.”

Wait…there’s more!

Bin here, bin there: Alongside its famous “Bags Fly Free” promise that provides every Customer onboard a Southwest flight the option to check two bags for free (weight and size limitations apply), the carrier is making room in the cabin for carryon items with larger overhead bins that also bring easier access to store and retrieve luggage onboard. The larger overhead bins will be on aircraft deliveries beginning early next year.

  • Online, not in line: New functionality for the carrier’s digital platforms and airport kiosks give Customers the ability to handle common requests and help them move more efficiently from curb to gate. By late summer 2022, Customers will be able to purchase Upgraded Boarding A1-A15 positions (when available) on their mobile devices without standing in line at the airport. Also on the horizon, an ability to add lap child travelers when booking online, and the airline recently added lap child check-in at self-service kiosks. Introducing more self-service options builds on the carrier’s effort to reduce wait times with improved and simplified online change functionality; recent improvements have reduced the need for Customers to call to make flight changes, and subsequently reduced hold times to allow Southwest Representatives more availability for specialized Hospitality and Customer Service.
  • More flexibility takes flight: The carrier’s previously announced additional fare, Wanna Get Away Plus, is expected to become available to Customers later this month, bringing a new ability to transfer travel funds and to confirm a same-day change to an available seat on a different flight between the same origin and destination, without a change in base fare. Southwest also offers a wide variety of accepted payment methods, and provides My Account information in mobile friendly views across the carrier’s digital platforms.
  • Mixing it up: Adding to an expansive beverage selection featuring a number of alcohol options, additional refreshment offerings will begin this summer with a Bloody Mary Mix, followed by a ready-to-drink cocktail in September, alongside new options of Hard Seltzer, and Rosé. Southwest also will enhance its inflight entertainment portal to more than double the number of free movies currently available by end of year and coming late May will update the flight tracker to provide 3-D views that offer aircraft information and customized destination guides based on your flight itinerary.

“We listen to our Customers, and their insights help us deliver on and exceed their expectations,” Jordan said. “Behind these commitments stand the legendary People of Southwest Airlines—ready to welcome Customers onboard with warmth, Hospitality, and LUV.”

The aforementioned investments were included in the Company’s five-year annual targets through 2026 for operating costs and capital spending provided at its Investor Day in December 2021—annual inflation in operating expenses per available seat mile (CASM, or unit costs), excluding fuel, profitsharing, and special items, in the low single digits range, and average annual capital spending of approximately $3.5 billion—and do not change guidance provided in the Company’s first quarter 2022 financial release.