Southwest & Etihad Talk Competition, Service and the Future of Airlines
Yesterday, GBTA Convention kicked off its first industry session at Center Stage with Charisse Jones of USA Today asking hard-hitting questions from Southwest Airlines’ Gary Kelly and Etihad Airlines’ James Hogan. The interviews focused on the future of airline competition, Open Skies, antitrust issues and the characteristics that each CEO felt set their airline apart.
First up was Gary Kelly, Chairman of the Board, President & CEO of Southwest Airlines. Charisse started right off addressing the elephant in the room asking about airline competition and the current U.S. Department of Justice investigation into possible collusion by U.S. airlines. Gary replied any accusations of collusion were false and that Southwest was complying with the DOJ and fully complying with all antitrust laws.
Gary went on to talk about growth of the airline, being a maverick in the industry, and whether or not the Southwest effect on fares still exists before telling the audience why his airline still doesn’t and has no plans to charge bag fees.
“Nobody likes bait and switch. Nobody likes hidden fees,” said Kelly. “We want to be as simple and straightforward and pleasant to do business with as possible. We feel like we earn more customers by not charging the bag fees. We think we would lose a billion dollars in revenue after netting in the additional bag fees if we changed our policy. Who wouldn’t want to be the only competitors doing a certain thing? I think it’s a gift. I love our competitors for it.”
Next, James Hogan, President and CEO of Etihad Airways, took the stage. Charisse again started off strong asking about the dispute in regards to Open Skies. While he couldn’t address the issue in regards to the other Gulf airlines, he said what Etihad brings to the market is competition and fantastic choice in regards to products and services.
Service, respect for the customer and innovation through technology are paramount, according to James. He added, “one of the great things about travel in this era is that the consumer can find out so much about your business so in our culture, we don’t have passengers, we have guests …and how you communicate to the guest is fundamental.”