How does the travel sector come back after so much disruption? That’s the topic Southwest Airlines senior VP and chief communications officer Linda Rutherford discusses with Doug Simon on the latest “PR’s Top Pros Talk” video interview.

“The number one thing that we need to do,” she tells Simon, “is spark travel inspiration.” She says that “we're going to see an opening up of the want to get out and explore and travel and be with friends and family and get back to the travel that we did prior to the pandemic.”

Business travel, “which basically shut down during the pandemic,” will need to be the focus of a rebuilding effort, she says.

Rutherford also talks with Simon about how, even during a pandemic, Southwest launched new destinations. “Those are all opportunities for us to get new customers that didn't have the option of flying Southwest Airlines previously and then putting idle employees and idle aircraft to work.”

Southwest’s reputation as a flexible company, helped it handle the new ways of communicating that the pandemic made necessary, she says. Launching the Southwest Promise, a series of education and process changes at the company focused on safety, required a collaborative effort from the company’s marketing and communications teams.

“It was a true teamwork effort, and obviously during a time of crisis, but I think we're very proud of what we did together,” she tells Simon.

As the pandemic subsides, Rutherford says that the airline will need to decide what new safety measures it might end up rolling back. “We're relying on customer sentiment, we're relying on science as we begin to make some of these changes.”

A major lesson Southwest learned from working through a pandemic: The importance of quick decisioning—"being able to make fast decisions, not getting caught up in bureaucracy, not getting caught up in those things that would get in the way of a good decision.”

COVID also made knowing how to deal with uncertainty a must-have skill. “One of the mantras that our CEO said at the outset was, we are going to launch something, and then we're going to continue to modify, adapt and iterate. So, don't worry about having the perfect solution, and have a good enough solution and then be willing to and be vulnerable enough to know that we learn something.”

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