Southwest Airlines plans to substantially reduce midweek flying beginning in January.
The airline will also make a series of other schedule adjustments designed to align its network with postpandemic travel patterns that lean more heavily on leisure travel than pre-2020.
The moves, Southwest estimated, will combine with continued development of the 18 destinations Southwest entered during the pandemic to contribute approximately $500 million to pretax profits next year.
"I expect [corporate travel] to continue to come back, but I think it is going to trail restoration of leisure here for a while," Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said an earnings call Thursday.
Historically, Southwest has flown approximately two percentage points less of its weekly schedule on Tuesdays and Wednesday than it does on the heavy Monday travel day. But with the schedule adjustment, the carrier will dial back Tuesday and Wednesday flying to approximately eight percentage points below the Monday level.
The move follows similar midweek rollbacks that are being deployed by discount carriers Frontier and Allegiant.
Southwest's four-point plan
The midweek cutbacks are part of a four-point plan Southwest will implement early next year to better align its schedule with current demand patterns, chief operating officer Andrew Watterson said.
Southwest will also scale back less lucrative late night and early morning flights. It will make adjustments to its flying in new markets, including its Hawaii flying, based upon what it has learned about demand patterns. And it will reduce frequencies on short business-travel routes, placing the freed-up aircraft on more leisure-oriented medium- and longhaul routes.
One example can be seen by comparing Southwest's schedule for the coming January related to Chicago Midway and Columbus, Ohio, compared to last January.
The carrier plans to reduce operations on business-oriented Midway-to-Columbus from 143 flights in January 2023 to 118 in January 2024, Cirium flight schedule data shows, while increasing frequencies on leisure-oriented Midway to Phoenix in from 181 flights to 232.
Meanwhile, Southwest will fly 28 more frequencies between Columbus and Florida next January than it did this year.
Southwest's stock dips
Southwest laid out the network adjustment plan as it reported net income of $683 million for the second quarter, down 10.1% year-over-year.
The airline reported a record Q2 revenue of $7.04 billion, up 4.6% from last year and besting analyst estimates by $60 million, according to the investment website Seeking Alpha.
However, the carrier's revenue per available seat mile, a key industry metric, was down 8.3% year-over-year, as both load factor and average airfares dipped.
Southwest stock price declined sharply Thursday and was down down 8.9% by market close.