What You Need to Know About Southwest’s New Reservation System

Apr 18, 2017

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Update 4/21/17: After researching the issue outlined in “Cancelled Double Bookings” below, Southwest has confirmed that only one of Paul’s itineraries was cancelled, not both.

Southwest is in the midst of a major change in its reservation system. It’s switching from an ancient reservations system to the more-modern Amadeus. Yawn, right? Well, while Gary Kelly said in October that this change will be “invisible to our customers,” there are a few key changes that you should know about, especially if you’re used to how things worked under the old system.

The key date to keep in mind is May 9. For flights until that date, Southwest is using its old system. For flights on or after May 9, Southwest’s Amadeus system is being used for reservations.

Cancelled Double Bookings

TPG reader Paul V. experienced these changes already. Arranging a multi-city trip, he booked outbound flights from both Dallas Love Field (DAL) to San Francisco (SFO) and Oakland (OAK) — planning to cancel the one he wouldn’t end up needing. He was surprised shortly after to get cancellation notices from Southwest for both flights. Seems he’s not the only one that’s been affected; the agent he spoke with said that he’d already handled eight calls about similar situations.

Less System Outages (Hopefully)

In this change, Southwest is ditching the reservation system that’s had outages in the past. I didn’t realize just how ancient this system is, but airline analyst Cranky Flier points out that this current infrastructure is based on Braniff’s reservation system. In case you didn’t know, Braniff is an airline which went bankrupt in 1982.

More Flexible Schedules

Currently, Southwest only has two sets of flight schedules: one for Saturday and the other for Sunday-Friday. Say the airline wanted to add another flight on a route that always sells out on Friday night. Under the current system, Southwest would have to add a flight at the same time on Sunday-Thursday just to add this one flight on Friday. That’s going away with the new system. Southwest will have a lot more flexibility in its flight schedules.

This is a double-edged sword for travelers. While Southwest might start offering additional flights or making positive tweaks to the flight schedule, the carrier might also pull that flight you can currently count on to be empty.

Another schedule quirk: The current Southwest reservation system doesn’t allow red-eye flights. You can expect these flights to be introduced once the new reservation system is in place.

New Revenue Sources?

In financial disclosures, Southwest is claiming that the new system will generate an additional $500 million per year in profit. The question is how — and where will that revenue will come from. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly says it won’t be from bag fees, change fees or anything else that would “tinker” with the brand. For now, Kelly only gives us this: “But we do have opportunities to invest in tools and techniques and beef up our resources to pursue some opportunities.” So, stay tuned for what that means.

Bottom Line

We’re optimistic that these changes are going to be an overall benefit for passengers. However, we’re wary of Paul’s report and concerned about potential negative changes to the Southwest that many of us know and love.

Have you noticed any… peculiarities… regarding your post-May-9 bookings?

Featured image courtesy of Scott Olson / Staff via Getty Images.

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