Following the unveiling of Southwest Airlines’ latest aircraft at Long Beach Airport, company executives made an appearance at a luncheon Friday for local businesses to hear from the city’s leading air carrier.

President and CEO Bob Jordan, along with COO Andrew Watterson, addressed the crowd, outlining the path Southwest is on in terms of its service in Long Beach and across the country. At the forefront of the company’s decision-making is the meltdown it suffered in December, Jordan said.

“We let a lot of people down. We let 2 million people down,” Jordan said. “There’s no way to skip past that like it didn’t happen. And at the same time, it’s not going to define the company.”

Jordan said that when he first took the lead role at Southwest in February 2022, he spent the first six months traveling the system, with visits to 20 airports, to see operations and meet employees.

“It was apparent we have work to do,” Jordan said. “There are a lot of things we do that just make it hard to do business with Southwest.

The two executives said the airline is now in the midst of a company-wide campaign to modernize and correct the issues that led to the cancellation of thousands of flights during peak holiday travel, leaving millions stranded.

Behind the scenes, the company will update its infrastructure, Watterson said, which will improve communication, especially during extreme weather events. Southwest also is investing in the tools and staffing needed throughout its network.

“You have my personal commitment,” Jordan said, “to fix the things that went wrong so it never happens to you and your customers again.”

One man speaks into a microphone while seated next two two others, all wearing Hawaiian shirts.
Southwest Airlines President and CEO Bob Jordan, left, speaks during a business luncheon at Skylinks at Long Beach golf course Friday, April 28, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

For customers, Watterson said the company is introducing onboard power, WiFi that “finally works after a decade” and larger overhead bins. Jordan added that the Southwest app is in desperate need of an update, including being able to track flights and bags, and modify travel plans.

The moves are a win-win-win, they said, noting it should make employees’ daily work easier and enhance the customer experience, all while saving the company money in the long run.

“Southwest is not broken,” Jordan said. “It’s a great company. But we’ve got to get better. There’s an incredible amount of work to do.”

Southwest is the leading carrier at Long Beach Airport, now holding 45 of the airfield’s 58 daily flight slots. The company is likely to be awarded up to three more slots following American Airlines’ exit from the airport.

The company has expanded quickly since coming to Long Beach in 2016 with only four slots. It has since grown to include 24 destinations (some seasonal), including their latest additions: Portland and Boise.

Senior Network Planning Advisor Rhett Morgan noted that a lot goes into the route decisions when growing within a certain market—namely, whether to increase daily flights to an existing destination or to add a new one. He did not give specifics as to where new slots in Long Beach would fly but said that “everything’s being evaluated.”

The continued expansion of Southwest at Long Beach speaks to the company’s dedication to the city, Morgan said.

A brightly colored plane taxis to its gate at Long Beach Airport.
Southwest Airlines’ newest aircraft, the Imua One, is unveiled at Long Beach Airport Friday, April 28, 2023. The plane’s livery is an homage to Hawaii. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

That dedication led the company to unveil its newest plane in Long Beach on Friday: a Boeing 737 MAX 8 dubbed Imua One, which features a vibrant livery honoring the island state of Hawaii. The company offers year-round service to Honolulu and seasonal service to Maui out of Long Beach.

The event featured music, numerous dance numbers and drums, in addition to various speakers from the company and city. Kahu Kordell C. L. Kekoa, a Hawaiian church minister, led a blessing and dedication of the specialty aircraft. Kekoa even christened the aircraft with 25-year-old Oahu rainwater, mixed with water from Spokane.

“What we’re doing is connecting the world together with every route that this aircraft will fly,” Kekoa said, noting that one of the maile lei at the ceremony will remain on the aircraft, while the other stays in Long Beach. Imua One “kind of says, ‘Let’s go forward to the sand.’ So when you are ready, get on board an aircraft and get to Hawaii.”

Women dance with colorful, decorative instruments.
Dancers perform with ʻuliʻuli, traditional Hawaiian feathered rattles, during the unveiling of Southwest Airlines’ Hawaiian-themed aircraft at Long Beach Airport Friday, April 28, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.
Ten people hold up maile lei to the fuselage of an airplane.
Kahu Kordell C. L. Kekoa, a Hawaiian church minister, left, leads a blessing and dedication of the Imua One at Long Beach Airport Friday, April 28, 2023. The blessing included the sprinkling of rain water that fell on Oahu 25 years ago. Photo by Brandon Richardson.
People beat on big, wooden drums on the Long Beach Airport tarmac.
Performers beat on drums during the unveiling of Southwest Airlines’ Hawaiian-themed aircraft at Long Beach Airport Friday, April 28, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Southwest announces nonstop flights from Long Beach to Portland, Boise

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.