Out of the garage and CRASH...Southwest proudly rolled out some schedule change the other day, the results of a major upgrade of its "Garage-O-Mizer" scheduling software. It's called that because an employee developed it at home on his own time. As the blog Nuts About Southwest explains, "He had cracked the problem on his own and produced the solution himself, over Christmas break, on his home PC-metaphorically, in his garage. He had done what was actually thought to be mathematically and technologically impossible at the time. THE "GARAGE-O-MIZER" WAS BORN," writes Bill Owen, Southwest's schedule development lead planner explains.
But now, Owen explains, "The November 2008 schedule marks the debut of a new schedule optimizer, the new 'Global Optimizer' - one that takes all of our schedule rules and preferences and actually picks the one schedule that scores the absolute highest based on the in-put parameters we supply. Thousands of criteria are considered..".
For example, blogs Owen, "the Global Optimizer actually looks to see what time passengers actually want to travel in every non-stop market we're in. For example, folks want to leave Vegas for LA (LAX or Oakland) in the later afternoon, while they want to leave Baltimore/Washington (BWI) for Orlando in the morning. All 800+ non-stop markets have their own, unique demand curves. This new algorithm lets us match our schedule to exactly what you, our Customers, want!"
This was good news for the many passengers who had waited and complained that Southwest wasn't opening up its schedules far enough in advance; the bad news was that their demand overwhelmed the system. They flooded Southwest with so many on-line and telephone requests that the system crashed and burned. None of this proves that Southwest is a poor planner; instead, it suggests that it is a desirable airline and above all that customers are so wary of fare increases driven by rising fuel costs that they want to book early - very early.
The schedule changes, incidentally, increase Southwest flights at (GUESS) Denver. It's also adding flights at Oakland, Calif., and Fort Lauderdale. These are airports that are seeing legacy carrier cuts, including Ted cuts in Florida and Denver. It will add a total of 40 roundtrips, while cutting 31 other flights, and will keep two Boeing 737s it had planned to retire. It will reduce departures in 27 markets but not end service to any cities.