North America

Southwest Airlines’ Former CEO Gary Kelly Was Right About the Corporate Travel Recovery

Edward Russell

July 27th, 2023

Southwest ticket counter in Dallas

Southwest Airlines former CEO Gary Kelly's firm belief that the industry was in for a slow corporate travel recovery is looking increasingly prescient. Southwest is undertaking the not-so-simple task of redesigning its network to reflect a future with fewer road warriors for some years to come.

“I expect business to come back, but I think it’s going to trail the restoration of leisure for a while," Southwest's current CEO Bob Jordan, who replaced Kelly in February 2022, said during the carrier's second-quarter earnings call Thursday.

While Jordan did not say when he expects corporate demand to recover from the pandemic, given we're already three years into the rebound, Kelly's forecast of a 5-10 year business travel recovery is looking increasingly accurate. Southwest's network changes, which Jordan said will drive roughly $500 million in incremental pre-tax profits next year, will only begin in January and be completed by March — or four years into the Covid recovery, and only a year shy of Kelly's expectations.


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