Southwest Staffs Flights via SMS System

— October 03, 2011

Low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines is streamline its process for matching pilot availability with flight needs. Using the Varolii Interact platform from Varolii Corporation, an independent market and technology provider of interactive, personalized business-to-consumer text, voice and email communications, Southwest Airlines uses SMS text messages to more efficiently and effectively alert pilots of flight scheduling opportunities.

Based on Varolii's Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution, Southwest Airlines' Open Time Alerts (OTA) helps the airline quickly staff unassigned flights, ensure on-time flight operations and reduce costs from a less efficient, manual process.
In cases of illness or other circumstances that prevent a pilot from attending their scheduled flights, airlines are left with "open time," or an uncovered shift, that must quickly be reassigned. Prior to implementing the OTA solution, Southwest's crew scheduling departments had to make hundreds of manual phone calls each day to pilots to fill open shifts.

Schedulers were also required to follow a specific call sequence, starting with the most senior pilots, which created lag times from waiting for responses before moving on to the next pilot on the list. This not only wasted resources, but made it difficult to efficiently schedule pilots for unfilled flight times.
With the Varolii Interact platform, Southwest's OTA solution provides pilots with an opt-in program that delivers SMS text messages directly to their mobile devices to alert them of open flights and give them the real-time opportunity to opt-in to staff specific flights. Each message includes detailed flight information, including the length of the assignment, overnight accommodations, if necessary, flight time and more.

Pilots receive the information in a pre-determined cascade of priority, based on seniority and other factors, and can respond instantly on their phone using Varolii Interact's two-way text messaging capability to notify Southwest's crew scheduling department if they are interested in the assignment. As a result, Southwest has been able to streamline its scheduling processes and improve the flow of information to their pilot group.
"With the pervasiveness of today's mobile devices, we knew we needed to adapt our communications strategy to meet the changing needs of our pilots," said Russell McCrady, senior director of crew operations and employee resources at Southwest Airlines. "Varolii Interact enables us to tap into this real-time response channel and reap the benefits of mobile capabilities. This has not only helped us to assign flights faster and easier as pilots are more apt to respond; but, the solution has nearly eliminated the need for repetitive, laborious calls to pilots. This has freed up the scheduling staff to focus on the operation and improve our overall productivity."
Southwest Airlines uses Varolii to exchange more than 100,000 OTA text messages to pilots each month. Out of the airline's 6,067 active pilots in the company, more than two-thirds have signed up for the opt-in OTA program since the solution was first implemented in December 2010.
Varolii's technology, through its Global Network Service, automatically directs traffic to the optimal geographic region, all within a cloud environment, allowing the Southwest solution to be more resilient and self-healing. This optimized routing is based on a combination of static and adaptive metrics, including business policies, network conditions and the health of the application itself. This strategy has helped to ensure overall improved performance of the Southwest Airlines solution.
Southwest Airlines currently operates more than 1.2 million flights per year. Southwest Airlines relies on Varolii to deliver more than 5 million intelligent, personalized digital communications to flight crew members, as well as passengers and employees each year to quickly and efficiently notify them of flight status, disruptions, gate changes, and other critical information. In addition to Southwest, Varolii partners with a number of leading airlines, enabling them to reach passengers and employees in a smart, personalized and cost-effective way with its Varolii Interact platform.


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