Southwest Prepares To Partner With Other Airlines

It looks like Southwest Airlines is preparing to enter into partnerships with other airlines. That could mean selling tickets that include connections on other airlines as well as transferring bags. It might even mean codeshares, and frequent flyer earning and redemption as well.

The role is specifically to:

Manage the development, communication, and execution of Southwest’s entry into airline partnerships and develop and maintain relationships with potential partner carriers so that Southwest can successfully launch and build strong partnerships.

Southwest Airlines has mostly ‘gone it alone’ rather than partnering up with other carriers, but this move would hardly be a first for the Dallas-based carrier. For instance,

  • 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.

The job’s responsibilities specifically include “meet[ing] monthly with Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) for an in-depth discussion on all areas of Southwest’s Airline Partnership work.” Coming to an agreement with the airline’s pilots will be crucial. Pilots will see any partnership as outsourcing flying that ‘belongs to them’ and the airline knows it will need to sell its pilots on the idea that any partnership will allow them to grow the flying done by their airline.

Personally I’d love more ways to redeem Rapid Rewards points. AirTran, which was eventually acquired by Southwest, used to address its lack of partnerships by allowing members to redeem twice the points for a ticket on another carrier. Right now if you want to use Southwest points to fly to Alaska you cannot do it, and you cannot use your Rapid Rewards points to fly to Paris either.

It will presumably take some time for this new role to build out partnerships, and from the time one is announced to when it’s actually implemented could take a year as well. So we won’t likely be benefiting from new Southwest airline partnerships right away. But this job listing suggests that the idea could be a corporate priority.

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. My hesitation agreeing is that this is a Snr Mgr role i.e. not director, vp, svp etc. If SWA is serious about this, it would need a team led by VP/SVP with experience in developing/implementing/managing airline partnerships

  2. I’ve always been surprised that Southwest doesn’t already do this. If you want to fly abroad from a small or medium sized airport (say Reno or Fresno), you’re going to have to take to a domestic flight first to a major hub – eg United to Denver, then Lufthansa to Frankfurt. That’s business that Southwest is leaving on the table. I have no idea how profitable it is for the domestic-leg carrier, but it can’t be too bad if everyone else is doing it.

  3. They also had a marketing agreement with Icelandair for connections through BWI. That was short-lived.

  4. As a long time SW flyer and stockholder, I am excited about this possible development.

  5. I know an airline employee where interline management is part of their job title, and they do zero interline passenger flights. It has to do with interline employee travel. The WN job description, though, does have the word “customers” in it which leads me to believe passenger interline.

  6. @ Tank. Good point. However, in the past inter department cooperation, SWA treated employees as “customers” such as Flight Operations employees requesting interline passes from Pass Bureau.
    However, if interlining makes sense to SWA, I’m sure they will find a suitable partner.

  7. My opinion is Southwest is going to develop closer relationships with foreign carriers. Think, why would coordinating with a domestic carrier make any sense? Can you see Southwest linking with DL, UA, or AA? That would be giving away revenue that domestically should be Southwest’s. Think more along the lines of JetBlue and Emirates agreements and not any domestic carrier.

    Besides, interlining exists in more ways than just passengers. So this may not be anything at all.

  8. In a race to get pilots, Southwest is losing to AA n DL. I agree with previous post. Im smell another acquisition or merger. Id guess Alaska. Easy integration, little maket overlap for DOJ approval , mostly 737s.

  9. Interesting. An international interline partnership avoids the detested international flying regulations and situations that SWA tries to avoid getting subject to or involved with. Let the international partners deal with the potential customs, immigration, smuggler, trafficking problems. No need to get ETOPS certified.

  10. They need to have an interline agreement with other domestic airlines to move sputhwest paxs when they can’t. Couple yrs ago I was almost stranded in Sea because of weather on Southwest but was able to get a red eye on DL no issues back to Ord. Till Southwest has interline agreement I wont fly them again.

  11. It will be an enormous lift to get them to waive scope. That’s a CEO level discussion, not a new hire.

  12. There is currently an easy way to use SW points for international travel if you have their Chase credit card. In “additional awards” there is an international travel menu where I have used SW points for AA to Paris, Jet Blue to Peru, and Iceland Air.

  13. Our pilot contract already allows for limited international partnerships, with restrictions like the boarder crossing flight must be on southwest metal. It also only allows for domestic codeshare in Hawaii and Alaska. Nothing else domestic is allowed. They have had this capacity for 6 years…

  14. Now the door is open for SW to consume HAWAIIAN airlines. Later reach for ALASKA AIR. To place a major hub in Honolulu would be a significant move.

  15. The strategy they’re hiring for is obvious: form partnerships with non-alliance (PLAY is obvious; they even share a focus at BWI), or mini-alliance (e.g. Value Alliance, U-FLY) international carriers.

    That makes it obvious to the SWA pilots that nobody is funneling passengers to a direct competitor (as would be the case with, say, Hawaiian or Alaska). “All we’re doing is giving our customers a way to use those points to fly international routes we don’t serve and quite possibly can’t serve. But let’s be realistic; Barb and Mitch are gonna keep burning those points to drag their 2 free bags full of Hawaiian shirts down to MCO to see the mouse every year, because that’s what Americans do. Our loyalty program is as solid as it is straightforward, and our customer loyalty is unparalleled to the point that many of our customers don’t even bother comparison shopping. Your award flights are safe.”

    But what about the converse? I predict the pilots are going to get a LOT more butts in seats from foreigners vacationing in America.

    The low-cost international carriers in question will often only have 1 or 2 routes into the US. And they’re often on the coasts (not in the least because that’s all the range that narrowbodies will give them).

    Think about the “Average Hans.” Maybe he’s always wanted to see Chicago or Disney, but his budget has him on Play to get across the pond. No UA B787 direct from MUC-ORD for him.

    Play gets him from Trondheim to BWI cheap, but then what? with an alliance in place, guess who’s pilots are gonna get that fare to take him from there to MDW or MCO?

    (Do I get the job?)

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