Southwest Airlines’ chief executive Gary Kelly will step down from his role in early 2022, after having led the US low-cost carrier through aviation’s most devastating crisis.

Kelly will hand over the reins to the airline’s executive vice-president of corporate services Robert Jordan on 1 February 2022. Jordan will join Southwest’s board at that time, while Kelly will become executive chairman.

Gary Kelly

Source: Soutthwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines chief executive Gary Kelly

Details of the succession plan have been disclosed five days after Dallas-based Southwest celebrated its 50th anniversary on 18 June. Kelly has been with Southwest for 35 of those 50 years, having begun his career at the airline as controller. He became chief executive in 2004.

“Kelly has often said his biggest source of pride is the fact that Southwest Airlines has never had a single layoff or furlough in the airline’s 50-year history,” states Southwest.

Incoming chief executive Jordan joined the airline in 1988. Amid the pandemic he has led Southwest’s voluntary leave and early separation programmes.

Southwest disclosed on 8 June that it expected operating revenue in June to be at the “better end” of its previous guidance of down 20-25% versus June 2019.