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Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Insists Its Safe to Fly; See’s Uptick in New Flight Bookings

Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Insists Its Safe to Fly; See’s Uptick in New Flight Bookings

The chief executive of Southwest Airlines insisted on Sunday that in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic it is not only now safe to fly again but that the Dallas-based low-cost airline was already “doing everything possible” to get people back on its planes. On Sunday, the Texas department of health reported over 1,000 new novel Coronavirus cases for the third straight day after state governor Greg Abbott lifted a ‘stay at home’ order on May 1.

Chief executive Gary Kelly made the controversial remarks during an appearance on the CBS Sunday talk show Face the Nation. When asked if flying was safe, Kelly replied “Yes it is… We’re doing everything possible to encourage people to come back and fly,”

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Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines

Kelly touted recently introduced safety measures including making the wearing of face masks by all crew and passengers mandatory. He also said the airline had embarked on a programme of “very deep cleaning” of aircraft interiors, had introduced social distancing measures onboard and had changed in-flight service to reduce the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

“I don’t think the risk on an airplane is any greater risk than anywhere else,” Kelly told host Margaret Brennan, adding that Southwest was “doing everything we can to make it as safe as humanly possible.”

Last week, Southwest revealed that it had lost  $94 million in the first quarter and Kelly warned that the airline expected “no material improvement” in travel trends going into the second quarter. “In late February, we began experiencing a precipitous drop in passenger demand and bookings… Trip cancellations remain at unprecedented levels,” he said of the situation.

Southwest has been forced to ground nearly half of its 742 strong aircraft fleet because of the massive slump in passenger demand caused by the virus outbreak. Around 350 of the airline’s planes are either in long-term storage or temporary parking, while 34 Boeing 737MAX jets remain unusable for the foreseeable future.

Now, however, Kelly says Southwest has already seen a small rise in passenger numbers. Each week in April was “successfully better” than the one prior and he expects May will see even more passengers choosing to fly in April.

Southwest says it has “significantly reduced” capacity through July 2020 and that the airline is unable to “reasonably estimate” the impact that the pandemic might have on its business going forward.

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