Southwest Names the Airline’s Next Chief Executive

The airline has added flights to and from more than a dozen new airports since the pandemic began, including George Bush Intercontinental in Houston and O’Hare International in Chicago. This month, Southwest also revealed it had more than doubled an order for Boeing’s 737 Max airplane next year, committing to take 64 jets with the option to buy dozens more.

Still, Southwest will most likely face intense competition, particularly as smaller airlines, including Sun Country, Frontier and Sprit, try to expand and the other three large airlines shift more of their focus to domestic flights while international travel is depressed. Southwest also saw widespread delays and cancellations last week as it dealt with technical problems, first involving a supplier of data and then with its own systems.

Known for his jovial demeanor, Mr. Kelly, an accountant by training, has led Southwest with a steady hand. He is widely respected in the corporate world and is Southwest’s second-longest-serving chief executive, behind only Herb Kelleher, the airline’s charismatic co-founder, who died in 2019.

Mr. Jordan will be the airline’s sixth chief executive. And while he takes over a robust business, he will have to manage Southwest’s expanding network, try to preserve the airline’s quirky corporate culture — Southwest flight attendants, for example, frequently crack jokes and wear much less formal attire than attendants at other big airlines — and repay billions of dollars in loans it took out during the pandemic.

“If things are more erratic, I think that will be more of a challenge,” Mr. Kelly said.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 2.1 million people at airport checkpoints on Sunday, the most since the pandemic began. But that figure is down 23 percent from the same day in 2019. And while strong demand this summer seems likely, analysts have less confidence in what demand will look like in the fall and winter.

Mr. Jordan’s experience as a jack-of-all-trades may serve him well. He joined Southwest in 1988 as a computer programmer. Since then, he has held a number of finance, strategy, planning and other executive jobs. He helped develop the airline’s frequent flier program.

In 2011, Mr. Jordan was put in charge of integrating AirTran Airways after Southwest bought the company. That deal was unusual because unlike the other big U.S. airlines that were created by mergers between companies like Northwest and Delta and United and Continental, Southwest has grown mostly by adding new routes and airports to its network.

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