Why Doesn’t Southwest Airlines Fly Redeyes?

Why Doesn’t Southwest Airlines Fly Redeyes?

57

There are a lot of things that make Southwest Airlines unique among US airlines, and I’d consider most of those to be competitive advantages. There is one strange quirk that makes Southwest unique, though — the airline doesn’t operate redeye flights. I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at why, and if that could change.

Southwest doesn’t operate redeye flights

Domestic redeye flights (where you fly overnight) can be polarizing — people love them for the efficiency of not “wasting” a day, but hate them for having to miss a night of sleep, and how tough they can be on your body.

Major US airlines operate domestic redeye flights for a variety of reasons:

  • There’s the old saying that planes only make money when they’re in the air, so parking a plane on the ground overnight isn’t great for aircraft utilization
  • Many customers prefer redeyes to save time, so an airline not operating redeyes could lose some business to the competition
  • For many markets, redeyes allow airlines to offer practical connecting itineraries; for example, if you’re flying from Hawaii to the East Coast of the mainland and are connecting on the West Coast, one of your two flights will almost always have to be a redeye

There’s one exception when it comes to redeyes. In its 50+ year history, Southwest Airlines has never scheduled a redeye flight. What’s the logic — does the airline just not think these flights would make money, or…?

All other major US airlines operate redeyes

Why doesn’t Southwest operate redeyes?

Up until 2017, there was a technical limitation that prevented Southwest Airlines from scheduling redeyes. The airline used to have an antiquated reservations system:

  • This system didn’t allow Southwest to schedule connecting itineraries involving redeyes
  • This system didn’t allow the airline to even fluctuate its schedule on different days of the week
  • All Southwest flights had be scheduled to land by 11PM PT (2AM ET), so that the system could be switched over to the following day

In 2017, Southwest finally transitioned to Amadeus, which is much more capable, and allows the airline to schedule redeyes, among other things.

So over five years after making the switch, why has Southwest still not introduced redeyes? In early 2020, while the Boeing 737 MAX was grounded, and before the pandemic shut down travel, Southwest’s VP of Network Planning was asked about Southwest’s lack of redeyes. Below is an excerpt.

Southwest doesn’t fly red eyes. How much easier would your life be if it did?

I don’t know if easier is the right word, but it’s different. I’d like to be able to fly red eyes just because it would give you some more opportunities to serve the customer need. I believe there’s a customer need for people that are going from west to east that want to fly after the business day.

If it never comes to pass for Southwest, it’s something we’ve lived with for 48 years. It’s not like, “Oh my gosh, we have to fly red eyes.” At some point, it would be a nice extension from what we’re doing now. But it’s not a make or break thing.

When it’s right and the operation is feeling comfortable that they can do it and they can maintain it for our employees, then we’ll go ahead and turn that on.

For what it’s worth, while Southwest flight attendants seem to be able to operate redeyes without issue according to their contract, I’ve heard rumors that the contract for pilots would make redeyes more costly to operate. I haven’t been able to see the contract myself to figure out if that’s actually the case, but if anyone has any insights, I’d love to hear them.

Southwest Airlines doesn’t operate redeyes

Southwest is such a quirky airline

Southwest is a funny airline, and that’s also why I’m a bit conflicted on this.

When I started writing this post, I thought to myself “is no one at Southwest thinking, or why wouldn’t the airline add redeyes?” Southwest has the planes sitting around, and presumably there are at least some markets where these flights could be operated profitably, and where repositioning planes overnight would allow the airline to otherwise run more smoothly.

So it’s only natural that my thought is that Southwest just seems to be stuck in its ways, and refuses to change. That brings me to my other thought on this, which is that part of what sets Southwest apart from the competition is that the airline is set in its ways.

Some other US airlines seem to think that the path to profitability includes a complete reinvention every few years, with seemingly little success. “Hey, let’s add TVs to planes and be premium” quickly turns into “nope, never mind, let’s rip those out.” Meanwhile little has changed about Southwest, from friendly service, to efficient aircraft turns, to two free checked bags, to no assigned seats.

Southwest is the only airline that truly marches to the beat of its own drum, and doesn’t seem to care what the competition does. And it has worked really well for the airline over the years.

So while I might not get Southwest’s logic here, I do think the folks at Southwest know exactly what they’re doing, and that the decision to not operate redeyes is intentional… for now.

Redeyes would make Southwest’s Hawaii service easier

Bottom line

Southwest Airlines is the only major US airline to not operate redeye flights. Up until 2017, this was due to a limitation with the carrier’s reservations system, which (amazingly) didn’t allow redeyes to be scheduled. However, it has been over five years since that change was made, and the airline still doesn’t operate redeyes.

This seems to be something that’s on Southwest’s radar, though it obviously hasn’t been enough of a priority to actually happen. I’m curious to see if this changes eventually, or if the airline will just stick with its current strategy.

Anyone want to take a stab at explaining Southwest’s lack of redeyes?

Conversations (57)
The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. SAH Guest

    While we don't operate traditional red eyes we do fly very late and very early flights. Typically, we park the airplane around midnight (if it is on time) and the first departure will be around 5 am. That's not a lot of sitting around for the equipment. If it is parked at a maintenance base, the aircraft is being worked on. If it is at an outstation it doesn't leave much time or need for...

    While we don't operate traditional red eyes we do fly very late and very early flights. Typically, we park the airplane around midnight (if it is on time) and the first departure will be around 5 am. That's not a lot of sitting around for the equipment. If it is parked at a maintenance base, the aircraft is being worked on. If it is at an outstation it doesn't leave much time or need for a red eye.

    Additional pay for pilots performing red eyes is addressed in our contract and is negligible in terms of the cost of operation.

  2. Robb Guest

    Great article ... When you stated that Southwest listens to their own drummer and does not seem to care about what others think is simply Not true.. Spirit Airlines, especially when they were in the infant stages of development of the ULCC, did exactly what they wanted to do. They began charging for almost everything to become " different" and despite the bad press continue to keep their ULCC strategy.... Now, most airlines are offering...

    Great article ... When you stated that Southwest listens to their own drummer and does not seem to care about what others think is simply Not true.. Spirit Airlines, especially when they were in the infant stages of development of the ULCC, did exactly what they wanted to do. They began charging for almost everything to become " different" and despite the bad press continue to keep their ULCC strategy.... Now, most airlines are offering " no frills" ticketing or have tried it in the past decade.

  3. Stephanie Ann Manczuk Guest

    As a SWA retiree, why should we? It always struck me as dangerous. People should be asleep in the middle of the night including pilots, flight attendants and customers.

    1. SWA Mech Guest

      It's the only time that scheduled maintenance can be accomplished. These scheduled checks take hours to finish and the downtime at night is the only time to finish them. It's that simple.

  4. John Guest

    Hours of operation are 3 am to 2:59 am and allegedly a request to the FAA was made in 2013 to change their operating hours to the 24 hour clock, but was declined in 2015. Redeyes are covered in contracts.

  5. Ralph Hossler Guest

    Does southwest fly direct to Florida (non-stop) ?

    1. GJ Guest

      Southwest flies to Miami from Nashville and Charlotte and I'm sure other cities as well.

    2. OregonDean Guest

      Yes, from Portland and I would venture to say other west coast originations.

  6. PURSWELL Guest

    Different flyers experienced differ I'm sure, but Southwest does a good job of flying the routes it sells. It doesn't serve some smaller cities, but at least you know that when you buy the ticket. I've had several trips booked on the legacy airlines where I buy a trip that includes a connection, and I take the 1st flight only to discover the connecting flight is cancelled or greatly delayed. I end up renting a...

    Different flyers experienced differ I'm sure, but Southwest does a good job of flying the routes it sells. It doesn't serve some smaller cities, but at least you know that when you buy the ticket. I've had several trips booked on the legacy airlines where I buy a trip that includes a connection, and I take the 1st flight only to discover the connecting flight is cancelled or greatly delayed. I end up renting a car & driving the rest of the way. The legacies don't identify when those routes are served by a regional airline operating as part of the legacy, but it's a near certainty that any thing on a regional jet is a codeshare. If I'm going to have to drive the last segment anyway, I'd prefer to know that before I take the 1st flight. Unreliable service on codeshare flights eliminates a major reason to book with a carrier that supposedly has a more extensive network.

  7. Chris Guest

    Our “red eye” pay is a complete joke. $1 extra. No thanks. And we haven’t had a new contract in 4 years and I haven’t gotten a raise in 10. Going to have pony up big bucks all around to even get us close to where we should be. Maybe then we can talk overnight flights.

  8. Bob Guest

    Ever been to most of the airports SWA operate? There is no services past about 9PM. Even flying into DFW 4:30 AM the food court isn’t even open. Some of the Admiral clubs close early.

  9. Mary Guest

    No red eye flights give them a few hours for maintenance and cleaning. If planes are always in the air, there's no time for even a basic maintenance check. Just my opinion.

    1. OregonDean Guest

      Well that explains a lot about American, Untied, and Delta planes!

  10. Eric Guest

    That strategy may 180 as Climate Dysfunction continues to steadily destroy the planet. Not mentioned is red eyes don’t have to deal w often deadly summer thunderstorms that pop up across the country as HUGE violent cells that cook up quickly w rapid convection daytime heating. Heavy rain bombs, wind shears, dry cell thunderstorms w tornado winds and funnels. While not impossible to have these weather issues @ nighttime, it’s far less likely & much...

    That strategy may 180 as Climate Dysfunction continues to steadily destroy the planet. Not mentioned is red eyes don’t have to deal w often deadly summer thunderstorms that pop up across the country as HUGE violent cells that cook up quickly w rapid convection daytime heating. Heavy rain bombs, wind shears, dry cell thunderstorms w tornado winds and funnels. While not impossible to have these weather issues @ nighttime, it’s far less likely & much safer to fly @ night & less congested, you breeze thru security in seconds. It’s also an excellent money saver for cruise pax. Don’t have to spend overnight on a hotel, when U red eye.

  11. Ben Guest

    I thought the real reason why many airlines fly red-eyes was to reposition aircraft for the next day. I used to fly United’s SFO-BNA red eye very often and that thing was almost always empty (like - I got an entire row of Economy Plus to myself empty). No way that made economic sense in isolation.

    Perhaps Southwest’s decreased hub emphasis reduced the need for red-eyes?

  12. Cece Guest

    I fly Southwest airlines because they don't have redeye flights I hate them. I can't sleep on a plane. I quit flying Delata to Hawaii because theirs are all redeye.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      No they aren't.

  13. We ax Guest

    Always use different AL from West to east coast. Never mind. They will never get my business with a day flight from la to mia.

  14. Arrowspace90 Guest

    Pilots hate redeyes! Because they often mean you are trying to switch from day to night but then right back again. Doing them frequently is a long term health risk.
    Yes, SWA is a different model. They always have been. The difference is, they once featured the Midas Touch of Herb Kelleher. Since Herb is gone, the magic has ebbed away. They are now just another big airline, which sometimes tries to hang on...

    Pilots hate redeyes! Because they often mean you are trying to switch from day to night but then right back again. Doing them frequently is a long term health risk.
    Yes, SWA is a different model. They always have been. The difference is, they once featured the Midas Touch of Herb Kelleher. Since Herb is gone, the magic has ebbed away. They are now just another big airline, which sometimes tries to hang on to Herb's legacy. I always believed that without Herb's mojo, the success would end. And it has.

  15. Mary Guest

    I recent chose a United redeye in 1st vs a daytime Southwest flight in “business.” They were the same price one way which is absurd.

  16. Mark K. Guest

    20+ years ago, I was asking this question. There was and is no good way on WN to leave a West Coast city at end of business and get to work on time the next morning on the East Coast. I know they don't think of themselves as a hub & spoke system, but there are enough connections in their system that red-eyes from PHX or LAS to BWI could connect a lot of California...

    20+ years ago, I was asking this question. There was and is no good way on WN to leave a West Coast city at end of business and get to work on time the next morning on the East Coast. I know they don't think of themselves as a hub & spoke system, but there are enough connections in their system that red-eyes from PHX or LAS to BWI could connect a lot of California to a lot of the Northeast.
    I now live in flyover country, but when I was living in the coasts, there were plenty of times when I wanted to fly Southwest but they just weren't flying at night when I needed to travel.

  17. paul Guest

    Southwest does operate redeyes, if you charter the whole flight!

    The proposal they sent me several years ago covered plane, crew, and fuel. I wanted to fly a 737 into local backwards airport. $80k could have flown me and 136 of my closest friends to Vegas for a conference.

    The proposal stipulated in no uncertain terms that the charter must happen overnight (during normal off-time for the planes).

  18. Frequent Flyer Guest

    I agree with Bickleinny down there. WN is simply living off their reputation. I average 100,000 miles a month in the air, fly 6 days a week and I *might* fly WN 1 time every other year. Overpriced cattle class, that's all WN is anymore. WN is basically F9/NK but automatically charges you for checked bags even if you don't need them and no option to choose your seat. No thank you.

    1. Roxy Guest

      I was under the impression that there was no charge for 2 checked bags on WN. How many bags do you typically take on your travels? More than 2 checked and 2 carryon? I believe you would have to pay an additional amount for more bags than that on every airline.

  19. Jake Guest

    Tow words: Civilized Airline.

    They also don't charge for checking bags, so they turn a plane in 35 minutes: American (the airline who introduced the fee) can't do a turn in 50 minutes without leaving late!

    1. Eric Guest

      That’s BS. On a recent SWA return to DEN, we waited for a hr. on the tarmac for the plane @ our gate to push. Then, another 48 min. to get bags. SWA is being subjected to the same issues as other carriers. Finding, retaining and paying quality high salaries. Particularly after Covid. NOBODY in the airline biz. wants to be as assaulted, spat on, catch Covid and receive pay. A lot of people are...

      That’s BS. On a recent SWA return to DEN, we waited for a hr. on the tarmac for the plane @ our gate to push. Then, another 48 min. to get bags. SWA is being subjected to the same issues as other carriers. Finding, retaining and paying quality high salaries. Particularly after Covid. NOBODY in the airline biz. wants to be as assaulted, spat on, catch Covid and receive pay. A lot of people are taking the YOLO path, & bailing on the BS.

      The juice just ain’t worth the squeeze anymore…

  20. bickleinny New Member

    It would be nice to see a west-east overnight option on redeye. Changing the subject, Southwest is no longer a low-fare airline. Southwest is living off its reputation. I have a companion pass but can't often use it - even with the second ticket free the base price is more than double what I can find elsewhere. The only thing I like is the easy ability to cancel and rebook, especially when I am using points. Aside from that - bah, humbug.

    1. Arrowspace90 Guest

      It's weird. Airline ticket prices are through the roof this past year, up hugely. So what has happened? The planes remain packed to the gills every flight to everywhere.
      I'm a retired airline guy that gets "passes" on flights. That's great with retirement right? Finally there's time to travel for fun! Nope, every flight every day to everywhere is full, full, full.
      My peers over at American say the same thing, they are...

      It's weird. Airline ticket prices are through the roof this past year, up hugely. So what has happened? The planes remain packed to the gills every flight to everywhere.
      I'm a retired airline guy that gets "passes" on flights. That's great with retirement right? Finally there's time to travel for fun! Nope, every flight every day to everywhere is full, full, full.
      My peers over at American say the same thing, they are mostly unable to use their travel privileges due to full airplanes.
      Great for the bottom line, depressing for the employees.

    2. RareBus A380 Guest

      I work in the industry too for a large carrier. Big big big levels of agreement. Disappointing but definitely not the end of the world.

  21. iamhere Guest

    Seems you're in favor of Southwest, but there are many disadvantages and annoyances. No assigned seats. "Friendly service" - I don't think it is friendly at all. While they are not rude I think it is a bit overly done. This reminds me of being in a restaurant when the server introduces themselves and tells us their name, etc.

  22. Neal Z Guest

    The real question is: why would anyone ever want to fly Southworst in the first place. They are a bunch of lying, thieving, cheating scum. After what those miscreants did to me 6 years ago, I’ll never get on that bus with wings again, and I’ll gladly tell the world why…

  23. Robert Fahr Guest

    Hawaii to the West Coast arguably is the biggest missed opportunity.

  24. BradStPete Member

    OK I have worked in the travel industry for years, retiring in 2007. Southwest ( WN ) was most definetly on SABRE ( AA ). I know this because only SABRE automated travel agencies could book WN flts using teh GDS. Global Distribution Systems. Lucky, this does not make historical sense. SABRE I know has different levels of engagement ( TOTAL ACCESS etc ) but its SABRE ... THE premiere booking system ( sorry Apollo users LOL )
    What Gives ?

    1. BBK Diamond

      Exactly.. SABRE is the best of them all, the post made me think: 'wait a minute, there's NO WAY in this world that WN was using KIU' LOL.

  25. W B Guest

    Perhaps So West has thought about the people "working" the red eye flights. Is it possible that those flight wreck their bodies the same you mention it affects passengers?
    If that is the case, then high accolades to So West management.

  26. Bevan Guest

    I had thought it was a good way to reset the schedule, also most of their flights were 1 to 2 hours it was rare for Southwest to operate a 5hour coast to coast flight.
    Now that Hawaii is in the schedule they probably add some at least add west coast connections.

  27. Pamela Page Guest

    I would love to be able to get a redeye on Southwest

  28. Mark B Guest

    SWA pilot here.

    The primary reason is the pilot contact prohibits redeyes.

    SWA would need to negotiate with the union for it to ever happen. (Unlikely)

    1. Bob Guest

      Uhh, you might want to reread our contract. We already have red eye pay overrides. There are no contractual prohibitions to red eyes.

  29. Evan Guest

    It makes sense with the WN model (or at least previous model). I know at a time it was rare to see WN offer a flight segment longer than a couple of hours. So, for a "redeye" from let's say LAX to LGA, a WN flight would probably have two or three stops along the way, which would be at odd hours of the morning.

    However, as WN offers more long routes, I could see...

    It makes sense with the WN model (or at least previous model). I know at a time it was rare to see WN offer a flight segment longer than a couple of hours. So, for a "redeye" from let's say LAX to LGA, a WN flight would probably have two or three stops along the way, which would be at odd hours of the morning.

    However, as WN offers more long routes, I could see this becoming a possibility. I know for WN's routes, one of the big issues is because WN does not do redeyes, the connection possibilities from Hawaii to mainland US destinations are limited.

  30. BloggerGeorge Guest

    I remember when Delta did not fly red eye flights.
    SWA is not in the transcon market for the most part.

  31. LP Guest

    Is it too much to ask for an answer in the article to the question posed in the headline? Shame on me for thinking an article with a headline "Why Doesn't Southwest Airlines Fly Redeyes?" on a travel blog would answer the question "Why Doesn't Southwest Airlines Fly Redeyes?".

    1. ML Guest

      Yes. Yes it is too much.

  32. Tom Guest

    What is the maximum range of a 737 that is configured for SWA?

    1. Jason Laird Guest

      -700 = 3,445 nautical miles with regular blended winglets, 3,510 with split scimitar winglets.
      -800 = 3,085 nautical miles with regular blended winglets, 3,150 with split scimitar winglets.
      -800 MAX= 3,550 nautical miles.

  33. Regis Guest

    Redeyes are a valuable convenience, especially if you live on the west coast. Boarding a flight at SFO at 11 p.m. and arriving at JFK at 7 a.m. it is fantastic. I would fly WN a lot more if they offered such flights.

    1. Brian Gasser Guest

      Flying in a tightly packed coach cabin on a red eye doesnt seem like fun

    2. NFSF Gold

      Seriously. ~5 hours is a poor night sleep in a bed, forget trying to sleep on a plain

    3. SWA Guest

      southwest Economy seats are no worst than any other airlines that does redeyes.

      have you been on a united/american economy product? Its worst than SWA.

  34. grichard Guest

    It really surprised me that this didn't change when they started in Hawaii. As it stands, their departures from Hawaii end up being really early to allow some connections on the west coast. That's miserable for a leisure destination.

    1. Joshua Guest

      YMMV but for my family the SW flight is the only one we want home from the islands. My wife detests red eye flights. SW is the only airline to not fly red eyes from the islands back to the west coast.

      Yes, we leave hawaii fairly early, and return home to NM fairly late, but its a single long travel day instead of a long night of poor sleep on a plane and grumpy family the next AM on the day.

    2. Mike Kirkpatrick Guest

      Maybe your phrasing is confusing me. Most airlines have options that leave Hawaii late morning or early afternoon and land on the west coast the same evening. They *also* have red eye flights but they aren't exclusively red eyes.

    3. Joshua Guest

      Mike,

      That only holds true if you’re traveling to the west coast itself.

      A quick google flights search from Maui to anywhere east of CA with only one stop has no results that do not include a red eye from Hawaii with an early AM arrival on the west coast and a AM flight to the final destination.

      Or you can leave Hawaii around 1300, add two stops, and still get home at...

      Mike,

      That only holds true if you’re traveling to the west coast itself.

      A quick google flights search from Maui to anywhere east of CA with only one stop has no results that do not include a red eye from Hawaii with an early AM arrival on the west coast and a AM flight to the final destination.

      Or you can leave Hawaii around 1300, add two stops, and still get home at 10am the next day.

      OTOH SWA departs between 0700 and 1100 getting me home between 1900 and 2230.

      So no there are no early AM departures from the islands on any other carrier than SWA.

    4. RaflW Guest

      Yeah, to avoid a redeye home on Delta, we booked a stay in Los Angeles on the way home since they do fly HNL-LAX during the day. We didn't mind, as we had friends and family to visit.
      I might consider the HNL-MSP nonstop as that's long enough to maybe sleep (I manage just a couple hours on MSP-AMS flights) but it is _very_ expensive. The somewhat less costly red-eye options thru SEA, PDX...

      Yeah, to avoid a redeye home on Delta, we booked a stay in Los Angeles on the way home since they do fly HNL-LAX during the day. We didn't mind, as we had friends and family to visit.
      I might consider the HNL-MSP nonstop as that's long enough to maybe sleep (I manage just a couple hours on MSP-AMS flights) but it is _very_ expensive. The somewhat less costly red-eye options thru SEA, PDX or LAX mean interrupted 'sleep' and early morning plane change. All are undesirable options to us.

  35. Matthew B. Guest

    Well, because a red eye would require a crew doing a layover $$

    1. Jason Guest

      Southwest crews do layovers all the time everywhere. They're not like Allegiant, which just flies flights out and back from bases and crews never layover.

  36. FlyingPhysicist Member

    This is just an opinion of mine, but WN has certain quirks that help them stand out and often, these quirks usually come to benefit me when I fly with them. And most cases, their "business" fares come cheaper than the Big Three's Y fares for my routes with better benefits, like two checked bags flying free.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Bob Guest

Uhh, you might want to reread our contract. We already have red eye pay overrides. There are no contractual prohibitions to red eyes.

3
Brian Gasser Guest

Flying in a tightly packed coach cabin on a red eye doesnt seem like fun

2
Jason Laird Guest

-700 = 3,445 nautical miles with regular blended winglets, 3,510 with split scimitar winglets. -800 = 3,085 nautical miles with regular blended winglets, 3,150 with split scimitar winglets. -800 MAX= 3,550 nautical miles.

2
Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
4,788,713 Miles Traveled

27,627,500 Words Written

32,315 Posts Published