Southwest Airlines turning to Amazon to update computer system

Southwest Airlines is upgrading its computer system and turning to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help develop its new tech. The airline that had so many problems over this past holiday season is turning to Seattle-based Amazon to modernize.

Southwest was criticized for its antiquated systems that failed and stranded thousands of passengers across America in late December.

Southwest Airlines’ top execs did apologize for the airline’s performance in December and did so before a special hearing in Congress earlier this year. At the time SWA initially blamed the weather before admitting its computers were inadequate.

AWS and Amazon are part of the airline’s plan to enhance its info-tech systems. Lauren Woods, SWA’s Chief Information Officer, said it did develop its own tech, but now AWS will make it easier for passengers to, for instance, use the website and app for bookings.

“As our preferred cloud provider, AWS will offer solutions that are critical in our drive to modernize our operation, equip our employees with the tools they need to serve our customers, and improve our reliability,” Woods said. “With the help of AWS’s leading cloud technology and expertise, we will launch improved digital solutions, responsive customer support, and streamlined operations as we deliver on our digital transformation initiatives.”

Woods admitted that SWA’s general work method was to build and develop its own tech as the airline came up through the ranks of the airline business. That trend is now clearly changing, and Woods admitted that part of that change is turning to AWS.

“We were used to building our own special capabilities and apps to meet our unique needs, although SWA was leading the market with our own time perf and customer satisfaction we also had critical apps that were increasingly inflexible and could not change to meet our customer’s needs,” Woods said.

SWA also said AWS will provide and develop systems for things like gate assignments, ground operations, flight operations, and aircraft maintenance.

During the December meltdown, SWA tech could not manage its own flight crews. Southwest does have a significant presence in the market for Western Washington — so any improvements would impact passengers who fly from SEA.

Shaown Nandi is the Director of Technology for Industries and Strategic Accounts at AWS and spoke to KIRO 7 about the contract and work with SWA. He said that AWS has worked with other airlines and is excited to be working with Southwest. He said cloud computing would allow SWA to be able to scale up and down.

Nandi did admit that airlines deal with a lot of unforeseen circumstances, including weather, he said cloud computing should help SWA or any airline respond.

According to Amazon, Nandi leads solutions architecture, customer solutions, optimization, and prototyping for AWS’s Industries business. He said work with Southwest is going on now and while it could take time, he believes things will move faster for SWA this time since the airline isn’t just building this all up themselves.