Air travel simply isn't all that pleasant. You wait in line to board and hope to find overhead space for your bag (and even when it's there, it's a tight fit). Then, once you find your seat, you get to spend a few hours crammed into a narrow space while the person in front of you fully reclines, compressing your chest.
That's the best-case scenario because everyone who flies regularly has also dealt with delays, where they sit on the floor in a crowded airport or get stuck while the plane sits on the tarmac for hours.
After making your way through airport security, you then struggle with the WiFi, and when you finally connect, you realize that your phone has only 9% charge left.
Southwest Airlines (LUV) - Get Free Report has tried to be a passenger-friendly airline. It has made lots of changes that disrupt normal airline practices, like not charging for bags, allowing people to change their flights, and offering free in-flight movies and live television.
Now, the airline has committed $2 billion to address some key passenger pain points.
Southwest Pledges to Improve WiFi
Airplane Wifi works a lot like cruise-line internet access. You pay for it ($8 a day for Southwest passengers) and then have to hope it works. Sometimes it does, albeit almost always slowly, and at times it's hard to check your email, let alone stream a movie or get some work done.
Now, the airline is taking multiple steps to improve its in-air WiFi service, including:
- Upgrading WiFi equipment on its existing fleet with longstanding connectivity provider Anuvu's latest-generation hardware. It's able to provide significantly faster speed and bandwidth up to 10 times that of the current onboard tech.
- Southwest signed an agreement with satellite-connectivity provider Viasat to provide high-quality internet and live-TV programming onboard newly delivered aircraft. That project began in the fall of this year.
"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," Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Green said.
The improved service is being tested on hundreds of planes right now. Southwest has also been offering free WiFi on certain flights where the upgraded WiFi service has been installed. The goal is to test the system under high usage.
Southwest Adds Chargers, Bigger Overhead Bins
Long travel days can tax passengers' devices, including phones, tablets, and laptops. Southwest plans to address that by installing 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 these new ports onboard Boeing 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 Southwest's customer-experience vice president, Tony Roach.
Southwest also plans to address another major passenger pain point: the lack of overhead-bin space on crowded flights. The airline plans to add "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."
"We listen to our customers, and their insights help us deliver on and exceed their expectations," Chief Executive Bob Jordan said. "Behind these commitments stand the legendary people of Southwest Airlines -- ready to welcome customers onboard with warmth, hospitality, and LUV."