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As Other Airlines Falter, Southwest Still Flying High

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RDU INTERNATIONAL — Since Sept. 11 , the airline industry has taken a major hit.Companies are watching their stocks fall as they cut jobs, routes and fares.

One airline that serves the Triangleis using a different approach to keep things flying.

Southwest Airlines has always been a bit different. There are no meals, no advance seating and since Sept. 11, there have been no layoffs.

"We're operating a full schedule. We've not grounded any aircraft," said Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines. "We also don't want to add any aircraft in the current environment, but we're really a people company and a people business. Considering layoffs is really a last resort for Southwest Airlines, not the first step."

The first step is filling its planes. With roughly 70 percent of the carrier's flights under 500 miles, driving is a potential threat to business.

Passenger loads are up from the depressed levels right after the terrorist attacks. Many analysts said that it is still too early to tell what the long-term impact will be. Still, Southwest remains a favorite on Wall Street.

"They've been around for awhile. They've proven their product," said analyst Ray Neidl. "By far, they have the strongest balance sheet. They have good liquidity and they have the marketing expertise, I think, to bring their customers back fairly quickly."

In fact, Southwest was one of the first airlines on the airwaves with a new campaign after the attacks. Its ads feature the airline's employees, not one of which has been laid off in the carrier's 30-year history.

Passenger loyalty is just one of the assets analysts said Southwest has in its corner. The airline relies heavily on regional airports where passengers can avoid the long security lines forming at the nation's busiest hubs.



Len Besthoff, Reporter
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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