David Harvey

Southwest’s David Harvey talks:

  • Adding 17 markets in a year
  • Signs of business travel recovery
  • Future international opportunities

Southwest Airlines this week began service out of Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport for the first time since 2005, with 15 daily departures to five markets: Dallas, Chicago, Nashville, New Orleans and Denver. The first flight to the airport on Monday morning was from Dallas, a callback to the first flight in the carrier’s history on June 18, 1971, from Dallas to what was then Houston Intercontinental Airport. “Here we are, 50 years later, and we were able to bring the cocktail napkin back to its original routes,” VP of Southwest Business David Harvey said, referring to the oft-told story of Southwest founder Herb Kelleher doodling his idea for the airline on a cocktail napkin, showing the connection of the Dallas, Houston and San Antonio triangle. Houston is only one of several new markets in Southwest’s plans this year, however. Harvey spoke to BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker about the network expansion and how it fits with the carrier’s plans to expand its corporate business.

BTN: What will these new markets mean in terms of corporate travel sales?

David Harvey: From November 2020 to the end of 2021, we’ll have initiated service to 17 new markets. Covid has provided a unique opportunity to fast-forward some of our growth plans. Most of those markets are beaches and mountains, but we also had this incredibly opportunity to get into places like Bush Intercontinental, Chicago O’Hare and access into Miami, which are tremendous business markets. These are things that have been on our radar for a long time. Getting access to these key business markets in a recovery is tremendous. For the last 10 years, you couldn’t go on a sales call [without getting] questions about going back into Intercontinental. This has been a big gap in their travel program, because of all the business on the north side of Houston, so this is going to be great news for our corporate customers.

BTN: Several carriers have reported significant demand growth in the past few weeks. Has Southwest seen that as well?

Harvey: For the last 12 months, we’ve been following what’s being going on with Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. When those pop up, demand tends to go down and cancellations tend to go up. It does look like with how strong the vaccination schedule is—I just saw we hit a record of 4 million daily doses—you are seeing hospitalizations and deaths going down dramatically, and after 12 months, there’s a lot of pent-up demand. We saw post-Presidents’ Day going into March a nice acceleration and momentum for the spring and the summer, still being led on the leisure side, but we’re seeing more and more businesses open up their campuses. That is directly tied to the travel program. Even 60 days ago, a lot of them were saying post-July 4 or post-Labor Day, and a lot of those are moving it up now and