Southwest Airlines had a remarkably bad holiday period. As a result perhaps two million people had their travel interrupted, and the airline will report a loss for the fourth quarter. Their operations have recovered, but they have the daunting task of investing to make sure such a long tail event doesn’t repeat itself, and to convince customers to return.
Return they will, in part because there are things that Southwest Airlines does incredibly well, something that’s easily forgotten in the fog of how bad the last week and a half of 2022 was for the carrier and its customers. In fact, there are 8 reasons you should still fly Southwest Airlines:
They give you more legroom. The airline is highly negligent in failing to market this aggressively, in my view. Southwest Airlines generally offers 32 inches of pitch, the distance from seat back to seat back. That’s two more inches of legroom than most U.S. airlines, and you aren’t paying more for ‘extra legroom seats’ to get that.
Their flight credits don’t expire. If you can’t take a flight or need to change your plans, you can cancel for a credit. That’s true on most airlines, as long as you do not book a basic economy fare. But industry standard is to give you a year to use the credit, use it or lose it. Southwest credits though never expire. You can take as long as you need to use the credit, making it almost as good as cash (discounted to present value for however long it takes you to fly) if you’ll ever take another Southwest Airlines flight again in your life.
No basic economy fares other airlines sell their cheapest tickets as ‘basic economy’ which entails various restrictions like no carry on bags, boarding last, and not being able to change your flight or retain credit for cancelling. Southwest doesn’t impose these restrictions at all.
Two free checked bags if you’re going to check a bag, Southwest is usually cheaper for the same trip even if their ticket is more expensive (unless you have status with the other airline, or their co-brand credit card, and therefore get free bags with a competitor).
No pre-assigned seats is better for last minute business travelers and for families. If I’m not booking my tickets a month or more in advance on American Airlines, all of the extra legroom aisle seats are frequently gone. Even an hour before the flight on Southwest, most seats are open. The only seats already taken before Southwest starts boarding are by passengers who stayed on board from a previous flight and are continuing to the next destination.
If I buy a last minute highest-fare ticket that comes with the earliest boarding, offering earliest seat selection. An elite changing flights at the last minute, even after boarding order is assigned, still gets to board after the A group and can get a good seat (versus taking only what it left at the last minute on another airline). Holding out seats and not assigning them means last minute switches and last minute purchases still have access to better seats.
Meanwhile families traveling with lap infants are almost guaranteed to get an ‘extra seat’ for free, because very few people will take the seat next to the baby if there are other open seats on the aircraft. That’s more value to families at a lower price.
Their employees don’t hate their jobs. Something that really sets Southwest Airlines apart is their culture of fun. Employees seem to like their jobs, which is a real contrast from employees at many other airlines. And that fun is infectious, from the announcements they make on board, to games played during delayed (like pass the toilet paper roll down the aisle), to friendly interactions when passing out snacks and serving drinks. Passengers often want most to be treated like human beings during air travel, rather than self-loading cargo, and that’s an area where Southwest shines.
When our Employees at @LGBairport noticed a Customer's phone left behind in a gate area after a flight that was already boarded and pushed back from the gate, they didn't hesitate. #WorldKindnessDay pic.twitter.com/cf3gJy8Nmy
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) November 13, 2022
More fun on board. Southwest employees enjoy their jobs, and it’s infectious. You can peruse their twitter feed, with customers sharing stories from their journeys, and frequently you’ll find talk (and video!) of the antics that happen on board.
@SouthwestAir a wedding in the air in our flight from SJO to BWI pic.twitter.com/0uMag1Xr1g
— Di (@di_solano) December 4, 2022
@SouthwestAir love the singing flight attendant @CHARISEMILES today! Flight ✈️ 3363 pic.twitter.com/KhjsBUKnJN
— Gas Vegas (@GasVegasBaby) December 5, 2022
Dad Jokes w/ the @SouthwestAir crew 🤣🎙 pic.twitter.com/Znbo2FmymJ
— Araceli Villanueva (@Aracelv1) December 13, 2022
More domestic flights to get you where you want to go, when you want to go. Southwest is far larger than most people realize. That’s also why their meltdown had such a major impact. But it also means more flight choices to get to your destination. They’re the largest carrier in a large number of the biggest city pairs, and the largest domestic airline overall. In many cities it’s hard to avoid flying Southwest without major inconvenience. They’re the biggest airline in my own home market of Austin. So enjoy the things that make them enjoyable, take comfort that they’re at least covering the costs of passengers who were inconvenienced over the holidays, and are handing out points like candy – I got 25,000 points and was only delayed an hour.
What do you think? If you were a Southwest Airlines customer, will you be returning?