Southwest Airlines Strategic Shift: Partnerships and Codeshares Coming After Years of Solo Flight

Southwest Airlines is known for going it alone. Part of their business model has largely been avoiding the cost and complexity of partnerships and of transferring bags to and from other airlines. But that may be about to change.

Two years ago the airline advertised for a new role to manage airline partnerships. They wound up making an internal hire, starting at the beginning of 2023, for a Managing Director overseeing airline partnerships. They don’t have any partnerships yet!

But JonNYC flagged a job listing for a Director of Airline Partnerships and Alliances. The role is expressly defined to recommend, negotiate and implement partnerships with interline and codeshare partner carriers.

Enilria asks, “I wonder what has changed with their future plans that has made this necessary? Is it to add international flying? Or to code share with foreign carriers in places like Los Angeles? Is it to code share with JetBlue?”

It strikes me though that this is not new, but under development for at least two years – longer than the airline’s current challenges, and dating back to before their holiday 2022 meltdown. It’s unclear whether it’s ultimately a domestic or international codeshare or mere interline partnership, with the ability to sell other airline itineraries as part of the same reservation.

And this listing doesn’t mean it’ll happen soon. It was seven years after announcing a role to manage overwater operations before Southwest announced plans to fly to Hawaii.

This also wouldn’t be the first partnerships Southwest has undertaken, even though they don’t currently have any.

  • They codeshared with American Trans Air starting back in 2004 (Southwest acquired much of its Chicago Midway presence from ATA).

  • They announced a codeshare with Canada’s WestJet in 2008 but it was never implemented.

  • They also had an agreement with Mexico’s Volaris where they sold Volaris tickets on the Southwest Airlines website and offered interline bag checking.

I’d be interested in whether any readers are familiar with changes in the recently-ratified pilot union deal that might allow for codeshares. Generally pilots see any partnership as outsourcing flying that ‘belongs to them’ (outside of their ‘scope’) so the airline has to sell any partnership as additive and supportive of their growing their own flying.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I live I’m DFW and it’s been rumored that they will soon fly from DFW Airport as well. I see this as a way for them to connect passengers with other international LCCs.

  2. I would like to see Southwest at DFW. Maybe the will codeshare with AA. ASmerican is the only airline that flies ACT to DFW.

  3. @ Gary — They should really focus on assigned seating and allowing OTAs to disaplay their fares. Why are they leaving out such a significant piece of the market? Is it IT issues? There is zero value to passengers in open seating.

  4. gene beat me to it

    after the nuclear meltdown they finally realized the could not run the business on 30-year-old code

    they had to build new systems from the ground up; “re-architecting” is not possible given the age of the code and the obsolescence of their business requirements and definitions

    the internal promotion hire doesn’t make sense in this context; but they need someone to talk to all potential partners simply to identify and document the systems requirements

  5. @Gene – they are now on Amadeus so they could do seat assignments if they wanted, but remember they do hundreds of millions of dollars in early bird checkin and boarding priority buy ups, doesn’t seem likely selling seat assignments would earn more and would likely cause boarding to take longer which has operational costs too.

  6. @ Gary — I can’t be the only one, but I absolutely refuse to fly them as long as they have open seating. That obviously also means that our househld has zero interest in their credit cards. They’ve created their own mess, so I guess whatever…And, I dont buy into the boarding would take longer excuse. If it was so incredibly efficient, some other airline would use the same stupid process.

  7. Agree with Gene, long overdue for SWA to phase out the open seating model which just delays the onboarding process.They can just put SWA logo stickers over the numbered aluminum vertical posts and having Boarding Groups 1,2,3,4,5 line up when called. Problem solved

  8. WN does things differently and their model works. Some people like it while others do not.
    Assigning no seats is tied to offering 2 free checked bags – it speeds up the boarding and deplaning process much faster than other carriers.
    Faster turn times aren’t near as valuable with longer flights as they were when WN flew flights of a couple hundred miles.

    Part of WN’s need to change is driven by their overdependence on Boeing and the unbelievable delays in getting planes including the MAX 7. WN has had to resort to taking larger MAX 8s and they dilute their own revenue by putting too many seats in the market. The alternative is to bail on Boeing and stand in line for Airbus jets just like everyone else – and see their costs go up.

    Interlining is a good way to grow revenue including in markets where WN is dominant or has a privileged position such as intra-Hawaii and WN’s “hub” cities. There are other low cost carriers that would like to be able to distribute their passengers esp. from Latin America or Canada and WN could do the same.
    Penetrating Latin America is essential for WN but they have to do it through partnerships.

    I think this will go somewhere but WN moves slowly and this will be no different.

  9. What Southwest airlines does with open seating works very well for them. I get tired of reading all the people who whine about how they will not fly them as long as they have open seating. They obviously don’t care if the complainers don’t fly them. I have been on very few of their flights this last year that have not been completely sold out. For me I love the open seating. I love the early bird check in and the upgraded boarding if I chose to take advantage of it.

    For me I probably would not fly them if they go to assigned seating which will add additional costs to make them as bad as the rest of the airlines.

  10. The recent contract made very little change in this area. The previous contract allowed SWA to implement codeshare but they never did it.

  11. Even Greyhound (that awful interstate bus company) now has assigned seats. There is something to be said for that. It works. No fighting over or trying to be first group on board. If I want to take a bus (with all the other bus riders on the planet) I would. Southwest is stuck in its past, looking for its future, still.

  12. I have always wanted them to add a business section (could be open seating)….
    The removal of some seats would be balanced by the extra revenue that I’m sure many would be willing to pay…
    That would solve the dreaded ‘middle seat ‘ problem…

  13. I have always wanted them to add a business section (could be open seating)….
    The removal of some seats would be balanced by the extra revenue that I’m sure many would be willing to pay…
    That would solve the dreaded ‘middle seat ‘ problem…

  14. @ Leroy — We are not complainers. We just don’t want to pay a fee and then line up an hour before our flight just to have 40 fakers use wheelchairs to cut in front of us. I would rather relax in my elite lounge and then take my first class seat at ky convenience. I would gladly give up the lounge and first class seat for a short nonstop flight, but I’m not doing the stupid stuff that technology made archaic 40 years ago.

  15. I personally like open seating and have never understood why so many people dislike it. Here are my reasons.

    1. I can move away from people if I don’t like sitting by them. If someone is coughing, there is a crying baby, etc., I can often avoid sitting by them much more easily than I would be able to with assigned seats.

    2. I have A-List so I appreciate the same day flight change benefit. I appreciate that changing flights at the start of the day, as well as flying standby does not give me a bad seat. Even though I do not get the top boarding pass, the way that A-List gets to board prior to the people with B boarding passes ensures that I never get a middle seat for last minute flights on Southwest.

    3. I often book close to the last minute. For other airlines, this means that there are often not the best seats available. With my A-List status, I again do not need to worry.

    I usually fly solo, so I do not care about sitting by others. But even when I do fly with others, I never find this to be an issue. I can save a seat for someone with my jacket.

    I don’t understand what the benefits are of assigned seats over this.

  16. It’s because of open seating that Southwest boards front to back. I think in the early days it was efficient. I no longer think that. Assigned seats would give the airline more control over time spent boarding.

  17. I agree 100% with @guflyer. I have no issue with open seating since I’m A-List preferred. I get checked in automatically and as of this year, I get two free drinks per flight (as opposed to four coupons per year). They fly direct to most places in want to go. And with companion pass, my wife is always free, even if my company buys the ticket. With flights and points from their credit card, I was able to accumulate enough points to fly my family of four from BWI to three Hawaiian islands and back for free. No change fees. Free bags. Free wifi. I have no serious complaints that make we want to switch.

  18. I enjoy the open seating plan. It keeps the experience fresh. If you see someone you don’t want to sit next to, then keep on moving. I hope southwest doesn’t fall into the trap and become no different than every other airline.

  19. Chris, hopefully they’ll start accepting all regional currencies, the Mexican peso, Canadian currency, etc. Leaving it the way it is, they are losing out on a lot of revenue.

  20. People requiring wheel chair assistance should be required to provide the same level of documentation that would be needed to obtain a “disabled parking” vehicle sticker. And their “traveling companion/carer” should be required to side on the same side of the aisle as the “person requiring assistance”

  21. My attitude on SW is that I assume if I take them I’ll have a middle seat in the back. If the cost (factoring in bag fees) and schedule are worth it, let’s go. It always seems when it might be an option, it turns out their flights are 6am or 8pm.

  22. As a frequent WN flyer, I like the open seating policy. Southwest makes a lot of ancillary revenue with selling early boarding that most people ignore. If open sesting bothers you, buy early boarding.

  23. 13,800 points to Hawaii from Austin. 6900 points to Boise Id. 7900 points to Ft Myers Fl. Try getting similar offers from the big three. Factor in the companion pass and I will give up assigned seating all day long.

  24. It is amazing that with every post or story about Southwest the crybabies come out about their open seating and how they will never fly them as long as they have open seating. Makes me wonder then why the hell are they reading an article about Southwest if they never intend to fly them? Just bitter people with nothing better to do with their lives than complain. Had a full Max8 flight from DFW, had A1 boarding…. Guess how many passengers boarded before me? None… so stop your complaining at fake preboarders… there ain’t 40 on every flight ..and if people aren’t flying southwest how would they even know how many people preboard?

  25. Unassigned seats work great as far as I’m concerned! If someone is coughing, takes their shoes off and has stinky feet, or has an energetic child when I plan to try and sleep the flight, I can choose a seat with other people. Sometimes I want window seats. Sometimes if I’ve had a lot of caffeine before a flight, I know I will likely need to use the lav more and prefer an aisle seat. People can take responsibility if they really want to board early on and buy the early bird deal, or make sure they checkin on line right away as available to get an A or B category rather than a C group. I think one of the best features of Southwest is their unassigned seating.

  26. What I’ve never fully understood is how Southwest usually gets everyone boarded and in their seats faster than other airlines, even with open seating. It seems like assigned seating and boarding from back to front would be quicker but it rarely is

  27. To all those people who say that WN MUST start assigned seating,. You are obviously in the minority as shown by full year 2023 domestic enplanement data from BTS

    WN 153.3 million
    DL 125.5 million
    AA 120.3 million
    UA 94.8 million

  28. why do people with multiple options complain about the one option they dont have…??

    If you dont like open seating you can fly any other airline … if you like/prefer open seating you only have one choice.

    make it make sense …

  29. I’m not sure that pure size proves that WN’s open seating model is working but they are successful at what they do.

    The biggest takeaway from your data is that DL is the largest domestic legacy carrier. DL matched UA’s growth rate in 2023 and did more of it on its own metal than the AA model of outsourcing to other carriers and regional jets.

    Delta mainline jets served 144 domestic cities in December 2023 compared to 125 by American, 113 for United and 107 for Southwest. Allegiant served 122 cities but served many cities on a less than daily basis.

    WN’s lack of ability to get jets from Boeing means their growth rate will be low for at least a couple years.

    Those factors, not open seating, are what WN is focused on in 2024 and beyond.

  30. I was at WN for 8 years and on an executive advisory board. They told us a codeshare was coming, likely with a Ryanair type of low-fare int’l carrier. Something like WN to SNN, Ryanair into Europe.
    WN has no reason to do a domestic codeshare, they are already dominant domestically.

  31. The job did not say interline or codeshare! It said airline partnership! That could be a position to manage credit card partnerships, hotel partnerships, rental car agreements, etc! You may be reading into it!

  32. I prefer the open seating method compared to flying other airlines… and said exactly that in the survey Southwest sent recently to frequent flyers.

  33. I agree.

    I’m A-List and I’m cheap, so I buy the cheapest seat I can find and use the free same day change option. Because I’m A-List I can board at the equivalent of A-61 and get a decent aisle seat in the front half of the plane.If I do a same day change on a plane with assigned seating,, I’ll get a middle seat in the back of the bus.

  34. Gene – it seems like you have swallowed a bitter pill and have an agenda regarding SW.

    Your comments are pretty comical – ‘They’ve created their own mess, so I guess whatever…And, I don’t buy into the boarding would take longer excuse. If it was so incredibly efficient, some other airline would use the same stupid process.’

    Just because a business strategy hasn’t been duplicated/implemented by another business doesn’t mean the strategy being utilized by the company is unsuccessful. Additionally, regarding your comment on ‘their own mess’ – SW continues to be one of the most profitable airlines in the world. Any issues, as mentioned here by others, are not due to SW’s open seating policy, but rather to aircraft availability, as Boeing fails to keep up with current demand.

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