Southwest Airlines Finally Doing Away With Pneumatic Tubes, Paper Tickets

Image courtesy of DieselDemon

As part of an $800 million effort to modernize its reservations system and other operations, Southwest Airlines is saying goodbye to a handful of antiquated practices, including paper tickets and the use of pneumatic tubes to send messages at airports.

These updates will be part of Southwest’s biggest tech upgrade in its 45 years of existence, notes Bloomberg.

Last year, outdated airline systems resulted in multiple widespread outages, including one at Southwest that grounded some 700 flights and caused days of delays.

The airline says the goal of these upgrades is to keep planes moving in and out of airports as quickly as possible.

“We’re looking for minutes,” Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven told Bloomberg. “How do I save a minute here, a minute there? In 2017, we are more deliberate in our continuous improvement efforts.”

The new reservation system will allow Southwest to accept foreign money — something its rivals can already do — bounce back faster from storms, and have more control over price changes and schedules.

Ramp workers will be getting tablets with real-time information to speed up airplanes’ “turn time” — how quickly they can deboard and reboard passengers and take off again.

Tarmac staffers also won’t be using pneumatic tubes anymore to send notes via canister about lost luggage and other communications to the cargo workers in charge of calculating jet weight and balance. Digital transmissions will replace that system, as well as printouts for workers who transport bags to and fro.

Customers will be seeing changes as well, as the new reservation system means Southwest can ditch paper tickets altogether and stick with electronic tickets only. Previously, folks traveling for free on employee guest passes had to use paper tickets, a costly expense considering the airline doesn’t make money on those travelers.

Southwest’s recent outages weren’t the sole reason for needing to upgrade the airline’s tech. Its acquisition of AirTran and recent expansion to include overseas flights have also put pressure on the company to join the 21st century — or at least get out of the 19th.