I fly all the time, and throughout my life, I’ve flown on many different airlines. I have rewards points with American, Delta, Jetblue, and have recently traveled internationally on Turkish Airlines, British Airways, Icelandair, and Wow. But there’s one airline that gets it right in so many ways, and that’s Southwest Airlines. Here’s 10 reasons why I’m a loyal Southwest traveler. (Note: Southwest has not paid me to write this, but if anyone from Southwest is reading, I wouldn’t mind a few extra drink tickets… hint, hint.)
No Fare Searching Games
I don’t consider myself a penny-pincher, but I hate knowing I paid more than I had to. When searching for travel, I’ll spend hours searching for the best fare on all sorts of sites – Travelocity, Expedia, Google Flights, and play games with the search engines to find the cheapest fare. But here’s my question- why does one site offer the exact same flight with a lower price? To me, that’s playing games with customers, and when it comes to spending money, I hate games (and I even work in sales).
The only place you can find Southwest flights is on southwest.com. You’ll notice three categories of fares. The higher fares offer more flexibility and reward multipliers. Obviously, the closer you get to travel, the more expensive the flights. But at the end of the day, you don’t have to play games with the internet to save a few bucks on travel.
Always Available Rewards Travel
Recently, I tried helping my parents make flight reservations for American Airlines using their AAdvantage rewards. What a nightmare. Dates were blacked out. Times were unavailable. Fees on top of using the points were exorbitant. Then I figured out a trick. Instead of putting in the date and city I wanted to travel to, I put in a nearby city and a different date as my primary choice. Suddenly, the travel for the date and location I really wanted became available for a cheaper cost. The whole fiasco led me to believe that American Airlines tries to gouge their most loyal customers. It also made me thankful I have Southwest Rapid Rewards.
With Rapid Rewards, there are no blackout dates. It may cost more points to fly to a certain city on a certain time of the year, or as the date gets closer, you may find that the Wanna Get Away fares (the cheaper fares) are unavailable. But you can always find a way to use points to travel when and where you want to go.
Bags Fly Free
When gas prices went through the roof, airlines scrambled to find ways to offset costs and promptly introduced baggage fees. However, since then, gas prices have gone down, but major airlines like Delta and American still charge baggage fees (as do the discount airlines like Spirit and Frontier). If you want your luggage to come with you, plan on paying at least $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second. Some airlines such as Spirit charge you for carry ons as well.
While airlines try and figure out how to gouge their customers, Southwest has a very simple policy. Carry-ons and two checked bags are always free. So when I recently took a trip to go skiing in Utah, I saved over $100 in baggage fees by flying Southwest. Southwest may not always have the cheapest fare, but when you add up the costs, it might very well be the cheaper option. For me, it’s not even really about the money; it’s more about the principle of not price gouging customers.
Simple Boarding Process
It used to be that airlines boarded from back to front of the airplane, but major carriers such as Delta and American have scrapped that for zone boarding. One would think that Zone 1 would board first followed by Zone 2. Instead, the boarding assistant calls an array of loyalty programs, offering them the priority line for boarding. Diamond, Platinum, Gold, and on and on, as a few passengers trickle into the boarding queue. Finally, at the end of an exhaustive list, the masses are allowed to board but only through the general boarding lane.
I’m sure airlines want me to look at their priority passengers with envy, but the whole process just makes me feel cheap and annoyed. Not to mention, the only reward those people receive for priority boarding are getting to find their assigned seat early and wait on a stuffy plane.
Some years ago I remember Southwest’s policy was first come, first to board. It led people to camp out in front of the jetway doors for hours prior to their flight, sitting on the floor, gnawing on their Whopper. The less than classy experience gave Southwest the reputation for being the Greyhound of airlines. Fortunately, their boarding process has changed.
Today, Southwest’s boarding is very straightforward. You’re given a number, you line up according to that number, and you board when it’s your turn. And because there’s no assigned seating, there’s an advantage to a better boarding number. As an A-lister, I can always board with the A group. And those wishing to board with the A group, can do so for a fee, generally $40 (it also comes with a free drink coupon).
No Fees to Change Flights
As someone who travels all over the country for my job, I try and pile multiple cities into a single trip. Winter time can prove challenging. When one city gets snow, that can derail my whole itinerary. I try and be proactive, changing flights when I sense problems. When I tried to do this with Delta recently, I was told that it would cost $200 just to change my flight. Then I would be charged the difference in airfare. To be fair, Delta does waive change flight fees for higher rewards levels. But when I need my travel to be flexible, why would I be loyal to an airline that doesn’t earn my loyalty up front?
As part of Southwest’s commitment to its no hidden fees program – Transfarency, I can change my flight at any time without change fees. Yes, I will have to pay the difference in fare, but I won’t have to shell out hundreds just to get on a different flight. Southwest also added a new perk for A-List members. You can now change your flight for the same day and travel cities and fly standby without any fare change fees. As someone who needs flexible travel, Southwest is the clear winner.
I’m only 5’7”, so I don’t need extra legroom. However, my brother, who is 6’5” does. Personally, I think it’s absurd to financially punish someone for being taller. And that’s what a lot of airlines do. It’s not only another nickel and diming tactic, but it makes it next to impossible to select a seat when reserving a flight. Most times a general fare seat cannot be found, and so I wait until the airline receives a seat for me, hoping that they will just give me one with extra legroom at no additional cost.
According to CNTraveler, out of the major American airlines, Southwest is tied with Virgin America for offering the second most legroom (32 inches). Jetblue is the only airline that offers more (33 inches). American, Delta, United, Alaska, and Hawaiian all offer 31 inches. Allegiant gives you 30 inches of legroom. And Frontier and Spirit literally squeeze you into 28 inches of space (Spirit’s seats don’t even recline).
If you’re accustomed to first class accommodations, then Southwest isn’t for you, as it doesn’t have first or business class. However, on Southwest every seat (except in the exit rows) is the same (and no added cost), which for a coach traveler like me, is perfect.
Always 737s and a Newer Fleet
Recently I flew on Delta from Utah to Los Angeles, and I have to admit, it was one of the nicest airplanes I had ever been on. The seats all had TVs, there were USB plugs to keep my devices charged. I got off the flight thinking, “I need to fly Delta more often.”
Unfortunately, my next Delta flight didn’t have nearly the same commodities. What made it even worse was that it was a little airplane, and so it couldn’t accommodate my carry-on. I always try to pack in a carry-on for convenience as well as scheduling reasons. Having to gate check my carry-on due to the small plane provided an unexpected inconvenience.
With Southwest, I never have to guess what type of plane I’m going to get. It’s always a Boeing 737, either 300, 700, or 800 model. Having the same airplane makes it easy for me to plan my connections and arrival times. To top it off, some of their planes feature a wrap that highlights a state or an attraction like Sea World.
Not only is it the same aircraft, but Southwest boasts one of the youngest fleets in the industry at an average of 11.8 years. Consider that in comparison to some of the other airlines. It matters too. Allegiant Airlines has drawn FAA scrutiny over safety concerns after numerous emergency incidents. Coincidentally, according to TLVSpotter, the average age of its fleet is 22 years – twice the age of Southwest’s fleet! I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at Allegiant’s safety concerns. After all, its CEO is Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr., who was the CEO of ValueJet – an airline that constantly cut corners when it came to safety.
A Delta-loyal colleague told me of a recent incident in her travels. After her flight had a long delay, the captain explained that there was no way he or his passengers were going to get on that plane. In his words, it was the worst conditioned aircraft he had seen in his long career.
When you’re strapped into a metal tube at 36,000 feet, the last thing you need to worry about is if that tube will stay suspended in the air. Just like I’d prefer to take a newer SUV over an old VW Vanagon on a cross-country trip, I’d much rather take my chances with a newer airplane.
Free Live TV and Cheap Internet
Remember when airlines only had those TVs that dropped down from overhead, forcing everyone to watch the same show or movie? Fortunately, that has evolved to personal TVs. While Southwest doesn’t offer TV screens in the back of the headrest, it does offer free TV, which you can watch on your own device. I’ll admit having a USB charger at my seat would be extremely helpful. Nevertheless, my free viewing options include both live TV as well as select on-demand shows.
While I find airplane internet excruciatingly slow and often counterproductive, sometimes I do have to work on my flight. It’s good to know that when I need the internet, I can pay just $8 for the day. That’s considerably less than what many airlines charge.
Friendly and Fun Employees
Travel is stressful enough. And after dealing with the nightmare that is TSA, the last thing I want is to encounter a disgruntled airline worker. While everyone has their good and bad days, I’ve found Southwest flight attendants to be generally very chipper. Not only that, but it seems like Southwest encourages a little fun and creativity. Personally, it makes me smile when I hear a flight attendant rap the pre-flight safety briefing. I can appreciate an airline that takes the business of flying seriously while understanding when it doesn’t have to take itself so seriously.
An Always Profitable Airline
NPR’s How I Built This recently featured Herb Kellerher, the founder of Southwest Airlines. The jolly former CEO explains how he started with a small Texas airline and overcame adversity and lawsuits to make Southwest what it is today.
Herb challenged almost every aspect of the airline industry in growing Southwest. During one press conference, a reporter couldn’t seem to understand how Southwest was going to compete with large carriers while not offering inflight meals. Herb explained, “We’re going to charge you $400 less, and I understand you can get a pretty good sandwich at Chasen’s for $400.”
Airlines have struggled to evolve. Their top-heavy, pension-weighing budgets have forced many into bankruptcy or to beg for government bailouts. In contrast, Southwest Airlines, which began operating in 1972, has been profitable since its second year as a company. While other airlines have had to resort to layoffs, Southwest in its 45-year history has never had a single layoff. Southwest also pays its employees comparably or better than the rest of the industry. It goes to show you that at the core of the business, Southwest is doing something right. Happy employees, safe and comfortable airlines, and treating customers with respect (instead of price gouging them) have made me a loyal Southwest traveler.