Airline exec using Las Vegas band to help ‘connect’ to people

Southwest Airlines is a sponsor of the National Hockey League so Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly is well aware of Las Vegas’ bid to bring big-league hockey to Las Vegas.

So does that mean we could someday see an MGM-Southwest Airlines Arena in our future?

“We’ve never done that,” Kelly said in an exclusive interview with the Review-Journal. “Never say never, but we’ve never done that.”

Kelly, 59, said the airline has never put its corporate name on a sports arena despite having sponsorship ties and regularly running television advertising during National Football League and National Basketball Association games as well as with the NHL.

“Part of our purpose is to be friendly and reliable, but also low-cost, so we’ve never thought that was the most cost-effective way to connect with a community,” said Kelly, a 29-year Southwest employee who became CEO in 2004 and was named president and chairman in 2008.

Kelly succeeded James Parker, who inherited the top executive post from Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher, who was CEO from 1981 to 2001.

Southwest, the busiest operator at McCarran International Airport with 192 daily flights, isn’t afraid to try new things to connect with a younger audience and it’s doing so with a hot musical commodity that happens to be from Las Vegas.

“Our purpose is to connect people to what’s important in their lives and were looking for an opportunity for our people to connect with our customers. Sports has always been a major passion point for cities and communities and music is another,” Kelly said.

That’s how Southwest connected with the indie rock band Imagine Dragons, which is releasing its new “Smoke + Mirrors” album Tuesday.

Southwest and the band are collaborating on a series of concerts, including one that will occur on a Southwest flight.

Imagine Dragon concerts sponsored by Southwest are planned in Los Angeles on Friday, Salt Lake City on Saturday, Las Vegas on Feb. 23 and Atlanta on Feb. 25. When the band flies from Las Vegas to Atlanta, it will perform a “Live at 35” concert at 35,000 feet in what is being called “Southwest’s Ultimate Destination Dragons Flight.”

The promotion is part of Southwest’s relaunch of service in Atlanta where AirTran, a former Southwest subsidiary, had a major presence.


“We’ve identified ourselves with sports for a long time,” Kelly said. “We’ve done sponsorships and television advertising. We’ve been NFL football sponsors, NBA, NHL. Music is another vehicle to really connect with people.”

And connecting with people is more important than ever to Southwest, now that it has announced an initiative to grow capacity by 6 percent to 7 percent in 2015 with even more growth in the forecast for 2016 and 2017.

It’s the first time Southwest has made plans to expand capacity systemwide since 2010. Prior to late last year, Southwest has made minor tweaks in its schedule.

Southwest is able to take on immediate growth after retooling all the planes it got in its AirTran acquisition. After that, there’s a steady stream of deliveries of Boeing 737-800 aircraft scheduled.

“The earnings are strong, the travel demand environment is very healthy, fuel prices have collapsed, surprisingly,” Kelly said. “When you couple that with the completion of our transformation, for the first time in a long time we have tremendous opportunities to grow and that certainly applies to Las Vegas.”

Since 2010, Southwest has upgraded its Rapid Rewards frequent-flier program, acquired and integrated AirTran into the airline, launched international service and upgraded its aircraft, adding a larger version of its Boeing 737 twin-engine jet.

All that’s left on Kelly’s five-item to-do list announced in 2010 is the development of a revamped reservation system, which the company already has begun. Although transparent to most customers, the updated reservation system eventually will provide benefits to passengers, including an automated system to rebook alternative flights after last-minute cancellations resulting from weather delays and equipment changes.

Las Vegas was at the top of the list when the Dallas-based airline launched nonstop service from its Love Field headquarters in October after the repeal of the Wright Amendment.

Southwest is still looking at whether it will offer any nonstop international flights to and from McCarran. International flying represents a tiny sliver of Southwest’s business but the city’s marketers have international expansion high on its priority list.

It would make sense for Southwest to join the international wave since it has inaugurated service to several Caribbean destinations, Mexico and, in March, Belize.

Southwest has invested $156 million to build its own international terminal at Houston’s Hobby International Airport and the airline connects to Mexico through Orange County’s John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana, Calif. Kelly acknowledged that an international presence from Las Vegas is an option but Southwest is now in a position in which it can pick and choose from any number of options on how to expand.


For Las Vegas, that could mean additional flights to the 56 cities it already serves from McCarran, larger aircraft on existing routes or connecting the city to 50 new destinations Southwest has under consideration.

Southwest quietly grew traffic in Las Vegas in 2014, mostly by assigning more Boeing 737-800 jets to existing routes. The larger model of the twin-engine jet carries 175 passengers, 31 more than most of the 737s in the fleet.

Add in the four new Dallas flights and Southwest served a record 17 million passengers on flights to and from McCarran, a 2.9 percent increase over the previous year.

Las Vegas is Southwest’s second busiest station behind Chicago’s Midway Airport.

Where might Southwest fly next from Las Vegas? Airlines typically are close to the vest on those kinds of conversations and Southwest is no exception.

“In 29 years, I don’t think we have ever had so many opportunities to choose from,” Kelly said. “It’s a high-quality problem that we’re delighted to have.”

Kelly said Southwest is studying 50 potential destinations, 98 percent of which are beyond the lower 48 United States. The list includes destinations in Mexico and Canada, Central and South America, Alaska and even Hawaii.

“Las Vegas already has such a mature and robust route map. There are bound to be additional destinations that we can consider. but at least in the 48 states, we’re pretty well covered,” Kelly said. “So we’ve got opportunities to add additional frequencies.”

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter @RickVelotta.

Opendoor isn't the typical house flipping company
Unlike most house flippers, the company aims to make money from transaction costs rather than from selling homes for more than their purchase price.
The Venetian gondoliers sing Italian songs
Gondolier Marciano sings a the classic Italian song "Volare" as he leads guests through the canals of The Venetian in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Building In Logandale
Texas homebuilder D.R. Horton bought 43 lots in rural Logandale. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Indoor farming in Southern Nevada
Experts discuss Nevada's indoor farming industry. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Fontainebleau could have become a Waldorf Astoria
Months after developer Steve Witkoff bought the Fontainebleau last summer, he unveiled plans to turn the mothballed hotel into a Marriott-managed resort called The Drew. But if Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s plans didn’t fall through, the north Las Vegas Strip tower could have become a Waldorf Astoria with several floors of timeshare units. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
LVCVA CEO Rossi Ralenkotter announces plans to retire
Rossi Ralenkotter, CEO of the LVCVA, on Tuesday confirmed a Las Vegas Review-Journal report that he is preparing to retire. Richard N. Velotta/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Cousins Maine Lobster to open inside 2 Las Vegas Smith’s stores
Cousins Maine Lobster food truck company will open inside Las Vegas’ two newest Smith’s at Skye Canyon Park Drive and U.S. Highway 95, and at Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive. Cousins currently sells outside some Las Vegas Smith’s stores and at Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices to continue to rise, expert says
Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, gives homebuyers a pulse on the Las Vegas housing market. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NV Energy announces clean energy investment
The company is planning to add six solar projects in Nevada, along with the state's first major battery energy storage capacity. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
3 Mario Batali restaurants on Las Vegas Strip to close
Days after new sexual misconduct allegations were made against celebrity chef Mario Batali, his company announced Friday that it will close its three Las Vegas restaurants July 27. Employees of Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, B&B Ristorante and Otto Enoteca e Pizzeria, all located in The Venetian and Palazzo resorts, were informed of the decision Friday morning. Bastianich is scheduled to visit the restaurants Friday to speak to employees about the next two months of operation as well as how the company plans to help them transition to new positions.
Nevada has its first cybersecurity apprenticeship program
The Learning Center education company in Las Vegas has launched the first apprenticeship program for cybersecurity in Nevada. It was approved by the State Apprenticeship Council on May 15. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas union members voting to authorize the right to strike
Thousands of Las Vegas union members voting Tuesday morning to authorize the right to strike. A “yes” vote would give the union negotiating committee the power to call a strike anytime after June 1 at the resorts that fail to reach an agreement. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Small businesses struggle to find qualified candidates
A 2018 survey found that over two-thirds of small businesses in Nevada find it somewhat to very difficult to recruit qualified candidates. Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Nevada secretary of state website offers little protection against fraudulent business filings
Property developer Andy Pham tells how control of his business was easily seized by another person using the secretary of state website.
Caesars may be going solo in its marijuana policy
Several Southern Nevada casino companies aren’t following Caesars Entertainment’s lead on marijuana testing.
How much is the Lucky Dragon worth?
Less than a year-and-a-half after it opened, the Lucky Dragon was in bankruptcy.
Gyms and discount stores take over empty retail spaces
Grocery stores used to draw people to shopping centers. But many large retail spaces have been vacant since 2008. Discount stores like goodwill and gyms like EOS Fitness are filling those empty spaces, and helping to draw shoppers back in. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Funding source of Las Vegas stadium for the Raiders is sound, expert says
The stadium is funded in part by $750 million of room taxes, the biggest such tax subsidy ever for a professional sports stadium. Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute at UNLV, says that is a good use of public funds. (Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas needs light rail, expert says
Robert Lang, executive director of Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute said he is afraid of a "congestion mobility crisis." Las Vegas needs a light rail system, he said, to accommodate the city's growing number of attractions. (Richard Velotta/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three takeaways from Wynn Resorts' Earnings Call
Matt Maddox came out swinging in his first earnings conference call as Wynn Resorts chief executive officer, boasting of record Las Vegas quarterly revenues and applicants lining up for work.
Star Wars VR Comes to Las Vegas
Sneak peak at the new "Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire" VR experience at the Grand Canal Shoppes.
Elaine Wynn continues her fight to change Wynn Resorts board
Elaine Wynn, the largest shareholder of Wynn Resorts Ltd., is seeking to kick a friend of her ex-husband Steve Wynn off the company’s board of directors. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zillow is getting into house flipping in Las Vegas
Las Vegas Review-Journal real estate reporter Eli Segall says flipping houses has waned in popularity after the housing bubble burst.
Ellis Island Buys Mt. Charleston Lodge
Ellis Island, which operates a casino, brewery and hotel just off the Strip, purchased the Mt. Charleston Lodge in early April.
Casinos to be penalized for allowing drug-impaired customers to gamble
Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Tony Alamo talks about an amendment making casinos subject to the same disciplinary standards of preventing people to gamble if impaired by drugs as they are for letting them play while intoxicated by alcohol.
Terrible Herbst to open large travel center in Southern Nevada
The 50,000-square-foot commercial travel center will include 96 fuel pumps and the third White Castle restaurant in Southern Nevada. Wade Tyler Millward reports.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Hooters owner talks about room upgrades at his hotel-casino
George Ruff, founder and senior principal of Trinity Hotel Investors L.L.C., owner of Hooters Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, talks about recent room upgrades at the hotel. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Passengers Discuss Allegiant Air
Allegiant Air passengers voice their views on the airline at McCarran International Airport on April 16, 2018. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Longtime Las Vegas attorney John Momot dies at age 74
Criminal defense attorney John Momot, who represented mob figures and even played himself in the movie “Casino,” has died.
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like