Southwest will zag on Internet charge, zig on other fees

I just arrived home after a long - but fruitful - haul today. I took the morning train from Lancaster to New York for the Wings Club luncheon, where I dined with the fabulous Jennifer Coutts Clay of “Jetliner Cabins” fame.

Speaking at the event was Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly (check out my tremendously poor effort to take his pic….I only had one Vodka martini, gracious). In any case, Gary clearly hadn’t drunk the punch for he had plenty of interesting things to say.

Southwest's Kelly.JPG

 

You’ll see some reports floating about that Southwest plans to launch service from LaGuardia this summer, which technically means as early as June. This is indicative of the carrier’s new openness to tap major airports (Minneapolis begins 8 March). More interestingly for RWG readers is that Kelly is really positive about bringing Internet in-flight – care of Row 44 – but rather uncertain as to when that will happen.

If Southwest gets a “go decision” then the trial on four Boeing 737s will occur in the “first half” or possibly the “first quarter”. 

Kelly says equipage of the entire fleet – which will number 535 aircraft by year-end – “will probably take a couple years”.

Southwest was scheduled to begin installing the system on a single 737 on 16 December. There is, of course, a reason why Southwest might not get Row 44-provided Internet in the air and tested – and money in its pocket - as quickly as it would like. This blog has plenty in the way of immediate history on that topic.

But I think it would be a real shame if Southwest’s plan is stalled. Significantly, it would also put the carrier at a competitive disadvantage, since the behemoth in its own Dallas backyard, American Airlines, has been flying Aircell’s Gogo on its transcon Boeing 767s since this summer and is rumoured to now be equipping other types in its fleet. And then there is Aircell’s other customers – Virgin America, Air Canada, Delta (plus new subsidiary Northwest) and an undisclosed carrier.

Kelly does not hide his interest in the revenue-generating opportunities that in-flight Internet presents. Asked by yours truly if the carrier will charge a fee, Kelly answered a resounding: “Oh yeah.”

Of course they’ll charge, RWG, what are you prattling on about? Well, to be frank, some folks in the industry thought it would be a rather neat idea if Southwest went against the grain and gave connectivity away for free, relying instead on advertising, sponsorship and other creative ways to make money in a non-fee-for-service kinda way.

Indeed Kelly today championed the fact that Southwest hasn’t tacked on all those nasty fees being charged by its competitors for baggage, in-flight food and drink (and water if you’re US Airways…still amazed at that one), and fuel surcharges, etc.

“We love to zig when everybody else zags,” he said.

In-flight Internet is different. Apparently, Southwest is ready and willing to zag on this one.

“It has yet to be determined how much we intend to charge but certainly it would be in the spirit of our low-fare brand,” says Kelly, equating the spend to buying a cocktail on a Southwest flight.

 

The Southwest CEO believes that both business and leisure travellers “will welcome it”. If you want to have access to the service “we don’t mind charging you a little bit” but if you don’t, then it won’t inconvenience you in any way. Well thank you very much.

 

Now I’m zigging and zagging my butt to bed.

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