Airlines need to choose their battles carefully. In Southwest's case, will this combination of technology partnerships and airport testing be enough to bring business trips back at scale?
Southwest Airlines is in “the fight of our lives” — but confident some recent technology developments will help its corporate travel rebound.
Southwest Business, the airline’s corporate travel arm, is making some of its own progress behind the scenes. On October 5, it expanded its partnership with the Amadeus global distribution system. While it was already using Amadeus’ passenger service system Altea, it’s now upgraded to the Amadeus Travel Platform.
As a result, the carrier’s content becomes available to international travel management companies with points of sale in the U.S. It also gives company travel buyers, and travel management companies, greater access to its fares, for example allowing them to automatically re-book with instant special service requests — a useful feature in these disruptive times.
“By joining with Amadeus, we’re continuing our mission of removing friction for corporate travel managers and travel management companies to make it easier and hassle-free to book and manage travel on Southwest Airlines,” said Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer.
David Harvey, the division’s vice president, told Skift that although the airline is experiencing “the fight of our lives,” it’s ready to get back on the mat for the next round.
“Even since we turned it on, we’re already seeing some healthy volume coming through Amadeus,” he said. “Clearly they’ve got a much bigger international footprint, being the largest GDS provider, so this opens up the door as we have aspirations for more international business,” Harvey told Skift.
Inching Towards Direct Corporate Bookings
While in Europe some carriers, including Aegean Airlines and Lufthansa, seem to be running the opposite way by adding or upping surcharges to bookings made through global distribution systems like Amadeus, Harvey said there was a degree of catch-up in its own latest tie-up, which was announced last summer. “It captures incremental business we didn’t necessarily have on the shelf,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the airline could soon follow in the footsteps of Lufthansa in terms of progress with New Distribution Capability, the International Air Transportation Association’s controversial distribution standard.
At the end of last month, Lufthansa signed a deal with Siemens to give employees the ability to book flights, initially in France and Belgium, directly via the New Distribution Capability channel. Bookings are made via the SAP Concur platform.
SAP Concur obtains Lufthansa’s New Distribution Capability fares through Travelfusion, with BCD Travel, Siemens agency partner, providing the travel management services via an interface with Lufthansa.
It sounds convoluted, but it’s a model Southwest hopes to replicate via its own New Distribution Capability “translator,” ATPCO. “Our API continues to be successful, it’s still a big piece of our strategy,” Harvey said. “We’ve got active conversations directly with buyers that have technical savvy and a desire to explore that, as well as with travel management companies. You’ve got to work through contractual piece, and technology piece, then you announce.”
On-Site Testing Future
The latest announcements come at a pivotal time. Harvey said overall the carrier’s revenue is down 70 percent, with corporate travel lower as it continues to lag the leisure side.
Yet there is momentum with the race to instill confidence, in the form of Covid-19 testing, which can remove lengthy quarantines imposed by many states and most countries.
Globally, the CommonPass digital health pass will be tested in the coming weeks. Although it’s United Airlines, not Southwest, involved in the trial, the carrier is currently working with Hawaii, in a move that could be the first of many.
From October 15, the state will begin a Pre-Travel Testing Program. “There’s a lot of activity partnering with airports, testing providers, as well as the drug stores,” Harvey said. “We will have a solution for October 15. The thinking is there could be other geographies in the U.S., Caribbean or Mexico.”
He’s also pleased at Okaland Airport’s decision to provide free Covid tests for passengers. “They’re doing a drive-through solution where if you have a valid ticket within 72 hours, you get a free test, and a QR code. At some other airports it can cost up to $250,” Harvey said.
Southwest is a “trusted partner” with the State of Hawaii, while it’s also working with its airport partners at the Port of Oakland. It flies between the two, and will soon start communicating testing options for its Hawaii-bound travelers.
“This is a marathon,” Harvey said.
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Photo credit: Southwest Airlines is confident more airport testing will help boost passenger numbers. Stephen M. Keller / Southwest