Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Southwest Airlines designates Midway Airport an 'innovation station'

Southwest Airlines has designated its largest hub, Chicago’s Midway International Airport, as what its calling an “innovation station.” At least, that’s what a sign prominently posted in the airport’s B concourse announced to passengers as of this past weekend.

The messaging on the sign was relatively vague, referring to “new opportunities and exclusive updates designed to make make your in-airport experience even better.” As always with Southwest, which likes to keep things as upbeat as possible, the messaging on the sign also noted that “when your journey is easier, we smile even bigger.”

I reached out to a Southwest spokesman for further explanation of what might be forthcoming for passengers transiting through the newly-designated Innovation Station that Midway now is, and two specific things emerged from my inquiry.

Southwest apparently plans to experiment with what the low-fare carrier is calling new “wayfinding signs” to help passengers navigate around the airport — something that could be helpful in the months ahead as Midway is in the early stages of a massive revamp that will include a new food court, a children’s play area and a much larger Transportation Security Administration checkpoint.

The Southwest spokesman also said the airline could use Midway to test out new “tools designed to celebrate with our customers on important milestones like birthdays and anniversaries.” Pressed further on what this is all about, the spokesman indicated that a Southwest customer service agent or other employees might use new devices that contain information about passengers on a particular flight to help personalize the experience.

United Airlines and other carriers already have software and devices that help them do this sort of thing. (To wit, I was startled recently to hear a United purser on an international flight greet me with a “Happy Birthday” without my ever having said a word about the occasion.) Looks as if Southwest is trying to move in this same direction in its interaction with customers.

The Southwest spokesman added that the airline might be doing other things “behind the scenes” as well to make travel easier throughout the year. It’s those behind-the-scenes things, such as perhaps a more efficient de-icing of planes, that could be the best kind of innovation Southwest could institute at Midway. Last winter, Southwest flights were horrendously delayed because of various de-icing issues.

(Lewis Lazare - Chicago Business Journal)

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