Southwest is an easy target, and Elliott has taken direct aim at it by acquiring an 11% stake. This arrival is accompanied by an unusually brutal criticism of the current management team, but no suggestions for improvement, particularly in operations.

Is Elliott acting on official orders, or is he sincere when he describes Southwest as "the greatest restructuring opportunity in the airline industry in twenty years"? In the North American oligopoly made up of United, American, Delta and Southwest, the latter is not exactly the worst off.

It's true that, until a few days ago, its share price was below the low reached in the spring of 2020, at the height of the Covid panic. Admittedly, there have been a number of setbacks recently, from Boeing delivery delays to the improbable computer bug that cost the company a whopping $1 billion at the end of 2022.

Admittedly, economic performance in terms of margins and profitability has recently fallen short of analysts' estimates. But Southwest is no exception here; in fact, the entire air transport sector has been hit hard by inflation.

Witness, for example, the recent results of United, which in 2023 posted a lower operating profit than in 2019, so much so that rising costs - salaries, maintenance, fuel, etc. - absorbed the entire growth in sales over the period.

Long reputed to be the best-managed company - with 47 consecutive years of profitability - Southwest has admittedly been dragging its feet a little since the post-pandemic recovery. In terms of valuation, however, it shows no particular discount to its bets.

This leads us to consider another possible explanation for Elliott's drumbeat arrival: Southwest has long maintained the best balance sheet in its sector, in terms of net cash position; in addition to a change in management, does the activist fund see this as an opportunity to argue in favor of a special dividend?