In my intro article, I go into some of the reasons why I prefer Southwest Airlines to others. However, it’s worth spelling out in detail some of the things I just luv about the company (cheesy I know). When a company does me right or shakes things up, I will support them to the end. Southwest is a great example of that. Here are the reasons why I fly Southwest.
1) No change Fees
As someone who has worked in IT in the travel industry, I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to change a booking in a reservation system. Reservations are stored in a database somewhere usually on some legacy mainframe type system. Even so, should it cost $200 to update a few records in a database? Southwest says no! I hate change fees. They are a blatant tactic to rip you off. People’s plans change especially when flying for business. Why should you be so penalized? Since Southwest doesn’t charge change fees, if I get done with my business early, I can catch an earlier flight home. Changing a flight last minute but the one you want is full? Just try again later and chances are a seat will open up. That’s because you can change your flight at any time. As a result, people are constantly changing their flights even up until the last minute. This means that flight that was sold out this morning may have seats available this afternoon.
I will caveat this though that if the fare price goes up since you booked it, you will have to pay the difference. You just don’t have a change fee of $150 or more tacked onto it. If you are flying an Anytime or Business Select fare though, you can change it any time and never have to pay any more. I love traveling on these tickets because I can change my plans at any time.
2) No Baggage Fees
After 9/11 when none of the big airlines could turn a profit, they ushered in the era of bag fees. At $15 – $30 these add up quickly. Again, Southwest said, “we’re not doing that” and they brag about it all the time in their commercials. This is an example of where Southwest is doing the right thing and the big airlines still don’t get it. They think the key to profitability is nickel and diming. Instead if they would adapt they could find profitability by filling their planes more.
3) Rapid Rewards
Hands down the best frequent flyer program out there. With no blackout dates, you can find a seat on any flight. You earn more points on refundable fares and Business Select compared to other airlines. When it comes to redeeming, shorter flight are cheaper than longer flights. That means a trip from Houston to Dallas is significantly cheaper than a flight from Houston to Seattle. Your reward points simply go farther.
4) No small planes
By small planes I mean something with less than 100 seats or a propeller. I’m not a fan of any plane that I can’t stand up in. Southwest is the largest operator of Boeing 737 aircraft (with over 550 in service). As I understand it, the standardization on the 737 is strategic as they don’t need to have its pilots train on multiple models of aircraft. Thanks to my colleague Mark Cerro for pointing out that this standardization also reduces maintenance and part inventory expenses. As a consumer, it benefits us greatly because that means we never have to get on a plane that has a propeller or where you can’t stand up.
5) Point-to-Point system
The Point-to-Point system is Southwest’s answer to serving cities in smaller markets. Whereas with the big stuffy airlines using hub-and-spoke, when you live in a small city, the only direct flight you are going to get is to the hub city. With Southwest’s use of point-to-point, it allows them to offer more direct flights to destinations farther away. That means, a city like Tulsa can fly all the way to Las Vegas. Whereas, if you took United you get to fly to Houston first, likely on a small plane.
6) Safety Record
Southwest is considered one of the safest airlines in the world. It operated for nearly thirty years before it had it’s first accident injuring 43 people. In fact, no passenger has ever died as a result of a crash. Sure a plane occasionally lands at the wrong airport, but that seems to be happening to lots of carriers lately. :)
7) Open Seating
While some people fear open seating, I embrace it. This system lets people choose where they want to sit. Prefer an aisle seat? No problem, pick the first one you can find. Does the person in row 3 look sketchy? Fine, go sit in row 9. It also lets people make changes easier when a family needs to sit together. The system just works. It beats a system where 40% of the seats are reserved for premium economy. Those seats are nice, but the price to pay for them is usually significant. Most people don’t opt to pay for them so they get assigned out like upgrades too. This ends up causing people who book later to not be eligible for seat assignment when they book the ticket. Then when you check-in, you get some random seat that you usually don’t want.
8) Faster at boarding
I’ve heard many people say Southwest can empty and fill a plane faster than anyone. I don’t have any numbers to back it up but I believe it to be true. Whereas other airlines need 30 minutes or more to fill an aircraft, Southwest can do it in less than 25. The reason behind this is because of open seating. The elitism of the big airlines lets all those with status on first. This means the airline doesn’t fill from front to back, it’s all over the place. This makes the process take longer. That’s my theory at least.
9) Customer Service
Customer Service with Southwest is top notch. Being in the IT industry, I use Twitter a lot. So does Southwest (@SouthwestAir). Whenever I have a question, I can post it to Twitter and usually get a response the same day. They are especially responsive if you have an issue. For example, one time I had trouble connecting to the WiFi using my A-List Preferred benefit. I ended up paying for it using my credit card. I mentioned it on Twitter and I had my purchase refunded before I even hit the ground. One member of the customer advocacy team in particular, @SouthwestNicole, takes care of my requests all the time. I am truly impressed with the great support the company offers via social media. According to the Department of Transportation, Southwest has consistently received the fewest number of complaints to customer ratio as well.
10) Doesn’t promote elitism
Look at the big airlines. There is such a difference between the haves and have-nots, it reminds me of the caste system. When you walk up to the gate, there is the special red carpet for those in first class and those who have status. Boarding starts and then they call out each level of status: Diamond, Ruby, Platinum, Gold, and Silver one at a time. Once the flight takes off, they close the curtain on first class so that the riff-raff behind them can’t see the elites enjoying themselves.
Southwest has none of that. While it is true, the people with status get boarding position. There is no process where they single them out as they are announcing them on the loud speaker (with the exception of Business Select) to indicate how many people have better status than you. In fact, the person in line with you may be A-List preferred or have no status at all. Once you’re on the plane, everyone is the same because the flight attendants have no idea who has status and who doesn’t. If you’re sitting up front, it’s true that you might, but not always. You could be a through passenger or maybe you just got lucky. As a result, the flight attendants don’t just treat the people up front nicely, they treat everyone well.
11) Southwest doesn’t cave to aggregators
As someone who has worked in the travel industry, I know how evil aggregators (i.e.: Expedia and Travelocity) are. They force companies into extremely low rates and often push companies into contracts to have a lower rate with them over direct booking. When you book through an aggregator, they get a cut (usually a fixed fee) for every reservation. There is nothing good about this. If I learned anything from the travel industry, it’s that I will never book anything through an aggregator. I may use them to shop around, but I will always turn around and book directly through the company’s own web site. Whether it’s air, hotel, or rental cars, always book directly through their web site.
Southwest rates don’t typically show up on aggregators at all. That’s because they made the right decision years ago. That means they get more profit per transaction on Southwest.com which means they can offer you lower fares. They do show up on some corporate booking systems (such as Egencia and Concur), but often you have to go select the airline manually to get a rate to come up. They won’t come up on a general search.
12) Company Culture
A lot of companies like to claim they have a great company culture, but Southwest really does. It’s apparent in every thing they do. Fortune magazine regularly lists Southwest as one of America’s Top Ten admired companies. You can tell that the employees really do like working there. They smile at you and greet you when you walk on the plane. They don’t roll their eyes at you when you make a request. They’ll sing to you when you land. The employees are constantly doing things for the community too. Take a look at the Southwest blog and you’ll always see the great things they are doing for others. Southwest puts people first and their success and profitability come as a natural result of it. As a result, it’s a company that I would love to work with some day.
These are just some of the reasons why I fly Southwest? Why do you? Leave a comment below? Like one of the big stuffy airlines? Leave a comment below and tell us why you think they are better.
For those new to Southwest, be sure and read my Beginner’s Guide.