Publication | ThinkSet, issue 2

Inside Southwest’s Digital Upgrade

Joseph Guinto

Fall 2017

The switch to a new reservation platform clears the way for growth

Tom Nealon was at Southwest Airlines’ headquarters at Love Field in Dallas on July 20, 2016, when a router failed and a backup system also collapsed, overloading IT systems and knocking the entire reservation system offline. The airline was virtually grounded—2,300 flights canceled, thousands of passengers stranded.

“It shouldn’t have happened, but it did happen.” Nealon tells ThinkSet.

That’s the thing about digital disruption. It can be positive or negative. It can force your organization back to using pencil and paper, or it can create new opportunities if your company gets through the immense challenges of building, training and implementing a complex platform.

Nealon has seen both. At midnight on May 9, 2017, Southwest switched over to a new reservation system. It cost an estimated US $500 million and took 500,000 hours of employee training to get online. The airline worked with Amadeus, a Spanish company that provides a technology backbone to much of the airline industry. The upgrade, called Amadeus Altéa, was the first full-scale overhaul of Southwest’s passenger booking processes in more than two decades, and it has laid down a technological foundation for the future.