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New uniforms and other tidbits from Southwest Media Day

“2015 is the year of Houston,” Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Thursday.
“2015 is the year of Houston,” Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Thursday. AP

Southwest Airlines is getting a new Boeing MAX plane, new uniforms and maybe a few new cities on its route map.

During Southwest’s media day at Houston Hobby on Thursday, executives talked about the latest initiatives at the Dallas-based carrier. Here’s a few tidbits that we learned on media day.

New uniforms

Southwest plans to roll out new uniforms for its flight attendants, gate agents and ramp workers.

The company said it expects to spend $23 million outfitting about 80 percent of its workforce with the new uniforms. It includes a new orange fitted dress for flight attendants and neon yellow shirts and gray shorts for ramp workers. The pilots have a separate uniform design program.

It’s the first time in over twenty years that Southwest is designing a new uniform. It is currently conducting a wear test of the new uniforms and expects to make tweaks to it if necessary depending on employee feedback.

“I can’t underestimate how important it is we get this right,” said Teresa Laraba, senior vice president of customers. “This is passionate for people when it’s something you live in.”

The new uniforms are expected to be rolled out in 2017.

New plane

Southwest showed off a picture of its brand new Boeing 737-MAX which is currently being assembled and should be ready in the first part of December.

“It’s fun to be able to see one in production almost finished, sitting right there on the assembly line at Boeing,” said Southwest chief commercial officer Bob Jordan.

Engine tests and engine-only flying on the aircraft is expected to begin in early 2016. Southwest is the launch customer for the Boeing 737-MAX aircraft and should get the first plane in the middle of 2017.

Southwest said it will use the 737-MAX to replace its older “Classic” Boeing 737s. Since the 737-MAX has more fuel-efficient engines, the airline said it expects close to 20 percent in fuel savings with the new airplane.

New cities?

With its new international concourse at Houston Hobby, Southwest previously announced plans to expand service to Belize City, Belize and Liberia, Costa Rica.

More new destinations could be added to Southwest’s network as chief executive Gary Kelly said the airline has 50 possible new cities it could add with the range of its Boeing 737 fleet.

But Kelly said the airline hasn’t made any decisions on new destinations for 2016.

“We have not decided whether we will add any new cities yet, so we’re going to wait until the last possible moment and juggle the vast array of opportunities we have and make the best choice that we can,” Kelly said.

Crowded at Love Field

With the lawsuit involving Delta Air Lines at Love Field, Southwest is currently being forced to accommodate 5 Delta flights in addition to its 180 daily flights on 18 gates at Love.

Kelly said the carrier might be able to get more than 180 flights into its 18 gates if Delta leaves but it would be difficult just as it is currently accommodating Delta.

“I think that we could, but the period that we’ve been operating in since August has been pretty good in terms of weather and you know there will be times of the year when it is going to be more difficult to operate,” Kelly said.

He mentioned that he flew back from San Antonio last weekend and even though the aircraft was five minutes early, the flight ended up being 15 minutes late because it had to wait for a gate. That was on a sunny day, he said.

“There is just no margin for error whatsoever before things start piling up, so I think yes, we could get some more flights in but that all would have to be sorted through.”

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk