Most airlines publish schedules about 11 months in advance. That’s how far in advance you can book travel. Southwest Airlines doesn’t do that. They ‘extend their schedule’ in batches and you can generally book 6-8 months into the future.
It’s an unusual practice, but their schedules aren’t really firm a year into the future so why sell customers something that’s going to change? Of course some passengers want to lock in their travel really early – buying the cheapest tickets for Thanksgiving, or flights to match a cruise booked over a year in advance. So they probably do lose some sales by not offering to sell flights as many months in the future as other airlines.
Still, Southwest is a predominantly domestic airline and domestic flights aren’t booked as far out as international leisure trips. So it may not cost them very much.
There’s far more uncertainty now during Covid than in normal times, and people are booking much closer to departure as a result. Even though airlines are waiving change fees (and Southwest already didn’t have them) people are waiting until the last minute to commit.
- How widespread will the virus be when travel actually happens?
- What restrictions will be in place, will I be able to travel, will there be rules for testing and how hard or expensive will that be?
- Will the activities I’m traveling for even be open, given local regulations at the time?
- Will I be required to quarantine on my return?
With changing demand, and rules that depress demand, airlines don’t know where they’re going to fly either (or how often). Airline schedules are changing closure to travel than ever before.
Against that backdrop it isn’t surprising that Southwest didn’t extend its schedule the way they normally do.
- Southwest hadn’t extended its schedule since August 13 – four months ago.
- At the time they indicated they expected to extend their schedule again on November 12th, out to June 5, 2021.
- They did not do that.
- Now they’ve extended the schedule out to August 16th.
It’s interesting that they waited an extra month to program their schedule, but they’re publishing it three months farther out than they’d previously led customers to believe.
And it’s useful to know when the schedule becomes available for access to the cheapest fares on presumed peak travel days, such as July 4th weekend. Southwest hasn’t had change fees, even before the rest of the airlines jumped on the bandwagon for some fares and certain flights. So you can book forward-looking cheap tickets if it makes sense and retain flexibility.