Southwest Dedicates New Heart Logo to Unhappy Workers

Photograph by Stephen M. Keller

Southwest Airlines unveiled a new corporate logo and paint scheme for its planes, part of a freshening designed around big changes this year at the carrier. The re-branding comes as Southwest is about to complete its integration of AirTran Airways and to launch flights nationwide from its home base at Dallas Love Field; the airline dedicated its new three-colored heart logo to its employees, a not-so-subtle pitch to its increasingly disgruntled workforce.

This is the first update to Southwest’s “canyon blue” livery since January 2001, when the airline ditched the gold-and-orange color scheme that dated to its days as a Texas intrastate carrier. The new paint job moves “Southwest” from the tail of its 737s to the main cabin, with a new font and a different shade of blue that dominates the fuselage. The tail and winglets will feature stripes of red, yellow, and silver, retaining three colors that have been prominent in the past. Southwest is also painting a large heart on the belly. Airline employees will get new uniforms and the in-flight magazine, a relaunch. (One suggested tag line that Southwest rejected: “We’re 43 years old, we’re from Dallas, it’s time for a facelift.”)

Courtesy Southwest

Beginning with an unveiling at a company-wide pep rally on Monday, Southwest executives positioned the re-branding as an opportunity to remind employees about its heritage as a a scrappy upstart with friendly, folksy staff, on-board peanuts, and affordable fares. ”The Heart … symbolizes our commitment that we’ll remain true to our core values as we set our sights on the future,” Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in a blog post.

It may take more than a big public smooch to patch relations between management and labor. Southwest is a radically different airline than it was even a few years ago. Today its costs are on par with such global behemoths as American and United, and its on-time performance ranks worst among major airlines. In June, fewer than 67 percent of its flights were on time, continuing a trend that began late last year, when the airline adjusted its schedule to devote more of its flying time to the peak weekday hours most attractive to business travelers.

Photograph by Stephen M. Keller

The rampant delays, in turn, created friction between front-line airport staff and executives, who are now working to fix the on-time reliability. The tension has been most evident in contract talks. Last month, the union that represents 6,000 Southwest passenger service and reservation agents, the International Association of Machinists, asked a federal mediator to intervene in talks that have stretched for some two years. The airline is hoping to introduce performance-based payments into the workers’ compensation and to switch from fixed pay increases. The airline is also negotiating with its flight attendants, pilots, and maintenance workers. In January, Southwest suffered severe operational problems amid a winter storm, when a large number of baggage handlers called in sick.

As for the new paint jobs, even the pace of that work has been designed around keeping the costs of that work low, with the work being done as planes undergo heavy maintenance. Southwest says it will have about 60 planes finished this year, with about six additional ones painted each month; it will take seven years to paint the entire fleet.

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