Southwest Airlines: Transforming IT and Development for the World's Largest Airline Website

December 1, 2016
"Our goal is to have the cloud seamless and transparent - so our customers, employees and IT team don’t have to care about the technology underlying delivery of the service." 


After achieving 39 consecutive years of profitability, Dallas, Texas-based Southwest Airlines has become the United States’ largest domestic air carrier in terms of originating passengers boarded. Southwest’s 37,000 employees worldwide serve 73 cities in 38 states and fly more than 3,200 flights daily. According to Alexa, which provides traffic data, global rankings and other information on 30 million websites, is the world’s largest airline website by number of visitors.

As always, Southwest continues to differentiate itself from other low fare carriers with a reliable product and legendary customer service. As Bob Young, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer says, “Taking excellent care of our customers is just as important as filling our planes with fuel.


Re-engineering IT to Stay Competitive

Interestingly, the very factors that made Southwest popular were the catalysts forcing them to change. Low fares and being the “customer service champ” of the airline industry were attracting more travelers to more destinations. And these travelers were often new kinds of travelers for Southwest, with unique needs. The company quickly realized, if they were going to maintain their core values, modernizing IT was imperative.

Southwest faced dual challenges of infrastructure and application development. The way its IT team built critical applications, such as – one of the largest sites in the travel industry – needed to be totally re-engineered. Over 80% of Southwest’s passenger revenues are booked via Consequently, all applications had to be delivered through an infrastructure that could easily scale the globe while maintaining the airline’s outstanding customer service standards.


Pivotal Delivers the Right Technology and the Right Vision

To help transform its infrastructure and development processes, Southwest chose Pivotal – not only because Pivotal delivers world-class technology, but also because both companies share a commitment to customer service.

Products such as Pivotal GemFire seamlessly integrated into Southwest’s infrastructure. Pivotal GemFire is a distributed data management platform providing dynamic scalability, high performance and database-like persistence. It blends advanced techniques like replication, partitioning, data-aware routing and continuous querying.

Pivotal provided performance and scale, allowing Southwest to enhance, roll out new employee tools, launch a new mobile platform and provide a quick transition of operations from the recently-acquired AirTran Airways. Pivotal’s customer support, engineering and product teams provided immediate response and turnaround – enabling Southwest’s team to accomplish their goals without a glitch.


Reduced Provisioning Time

Southwest IT went from zero-to-40% globally virtualized in less than two years. This reduced time to provision servers from six days to one hour.

Performance and Reliability for Business Critical Applications

Southwest uses tools like Pivotal GemFire to run critical applications such as Exchange, SAP, SQL Server and Southwest’s online portal, which accounts for more than 80% of total business.

New Social Media Channels

Pivotal enabled Southwest to roll out popular social media channels, which see millions of visits per month.

“People absorb their information from online sources,” says Linda Rutherford, Vice President of Communications and Strategic Outreach, Southwest Airlines. “Our new environment enabled an aggressive social media strategy.”


Ultimately, Pivotal elevated Southwest to a new level of IT excellence. It was not just about Pivotal’s market-leading technologies, but also Pivotal’s commitment and shared vision with Southwest.

“I’ve really got to give credit to the teams that are working with us,” Young concludes. “The Southwest team who gets it done and Pivotal for providing such a great product that our engineers want to use it, can use it, understand it and make huge amounts of progress in a very short period of time.”

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