Issue No. 821

Kelly Hands Over LUV's Reins

Robert Jordan Set to Become Carrier's Sixth Chief Executive

Pushing Back: Inside the Issue

It’s the end of Southwest’s Kelly era, as CEO Gary Kelly gets set to pass the torch to Robert Jordan, the carrier’s current executive vice president of corporate services. Kelly, of course, took the mantle shortly after Southwest’s legendary founder, Herb Kelleher. Never as flamboyant as Kelleher (no one can imagine the taciturn Kelly challenging Doug Parker to a Wild Turkey-fueled arm-wrestling competition, for example), Kelly nonetheless guided the airline through a radical transformation, from scrappy discounter to one the country’s largest carriers by passenger volume.  It hasn’t always been smooth sailing: Kelly and labor often clashed. But Kelly leaves a bigger and different airline than the one he took over, and he presided over the acquisition of AirTran Airways and guided the airline through the repeal of the restrictive Wright Amendment. And Southwest still has not laid off a single employee in its 50 years (with thanks to the federal government this year and last).

Meanwhile, the airline industry risks splitting into two separate travel worlds. The first is of countries that are fully or close to fully vaccinated, where travel approaches pre-pandemic level. The second, much larger, is one that has vaccinated very few of its people, where lockdowns persist, and domestic and international travel remains depressed. This difference between the U.S. and other countries in the Americas could not be starker. Most countries in Africa and Asia — including early-pandemic success stories like Japan and Vietnam — have vaccinated a very small percentage of their populations. Just as a new viral variant emerges and spreads around the world. IATA is sticking to its forecast that global air travel will return to 2019 levels by 2024. This thing is not done.

Elsewhere in the issue, United could announce a huge new aircraft order this week. Canada’s airports may have a worse year this year than last, and Brazil — and Latin America — could be ripe for more consolidation.

The Airline Weekly Lounge Podcast

New episodes drop every week and are available wherever you get your podcasts and on In the latest podcast, Edward "Ned" Russell and Madhu Unnikrishnan chew over why Boeing should pull the trigger on a clean-sheet aircraft (or not), why American has a training problem, and how Europe's low-cost sector is mixing things up. Listen to the episode.

Weekly Skies

Southwest Airlines will get its first new CEO in nearly two decades next February when Gary Kelly passes the reins to Robert Jordan.


United Airlines will outline its future plans at an event dubbed "United Next" on June 29. While the Chicago-based carrier is quiet about the details, many analysts expect it will be a blockbuster order for as many as 200 new…

Landing Strip

While the U.S. and much of Europe is looking forward to a vaccinated and post-Covid reopening, Canada lags behind. The country's airports could have a worse year this year than they did in 2020, with only 10 percent of their…

Routes and Networks

The U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) and its South African counterpart are engaged in a tit-for-tat over carriers' access to their countries. The DOT partially denied South African Airways' (SAA) exemption to serve the U.S., specifically co-terminal flights to Los Angeles,…