Every now and then I come across a tweet or Facebook status update complaining about flying Southwest Airlines – or saying that they are dreading it even though they have never flown with the airline previously.
And I immediately want to reply that they are so, so wrong!
I absolutely love flying Southwest.
Indeed, when I go to the Grand Canyon in May, I am flying Southwest into Phoenix and taking a shuttle to Flagstaff rather than fly US Airways to Flagstaff. Granted, part of that is due to one horrible experience with US Airways, but really, whenever possible, I try to only fly Southwest.
So why do I love Southwest so much?
Let me count the ways…
1. No baggage fees.
I don’t often check bags, but when I do, I love that I can do so on Southwest without paying extra. This especially comes in handy when I fly home to Minnesota for Christmas, often dragging a large suitcase full of Christmas presents with me.
2. No change fees.
I really learned the value of this policy when I first returned from my career break and I was shuttling between Minnesota and Chicago (and occasionally Boston!) interviewing for jobs. Since Southwest only charges you the difference in fare if you change flights, I was able to book flights based on what I thought might happen and then change them up if I scored an interview in one city or another. Even better, if you have to cancel altogether, the value of your cancelled flight is available to you to use for up to a year. The only downside to this? They generally don’t let you fly standby so if you want to change your flight very, very last minute, you will have to pay the fare difference, which could be quite high.
3. Their flight attendants rock.
Seriously, I have never encountered such cheerful and funny flight attendants on any other airline. Ever. I have actually laughed out loud on multiple occasions while listening to flight attendants make pre-flight announcements – on my flight back from Boston in February, the whole plane actually broke out in applause. One of my favorites: “in case of a water landing, use the person next to you as a flotation device.” Another joked as we landed early that we should take that extra time into account the next time a flight is delayed. And my favorite was a guy who sang us a song as we taxied on the runway – “We love you, you love us. We’re much faster than a bus….marry one of us and you’ll fly free.” (I forgot the third line).
Anyway, you get the point. The flight attendants at Southwest don’t take themselves too seriously and make flying enjoyable, which is exactly what I want in an airline (as further evidence of this, in a recent poll, only 1% of respondents rated Southwest’s flight attendants as “rude” – the best score of any airline in the country. And I really think that 1% just don’t get their sense of humor.).
4. The people who fly Southwest also rock.
With the flight attendants setting the example, the atmosphere on a Southwest flight just feels relaxed. And aside from a borderline obsession with checking in exactly 24 hours out to score the coveted “A” boarding group, I think Southwest regulars tend to be laidback and congenial when they fly. I think of the numerous fellow passengers who have offered to help me get my bag down from the overhead bins. I think of the couple flying with a young child who turned around and offered to buy a drink for everyone stuck sitting near them. I think of the guy in the window seat on my last flight who laughed with me as we anxiously waited to see if our middle seat would be filled – and then breathed a sigh of relief with me when it was taken by a petite woman who wouldn’t encroach on either of us. I have laughed more with my fellow passengers while flying Southwest than any other airline.
5. The boarding process is smooth.
Some people hate the Southwest boarding process, but I personally love it. For those who are unaware, when you fly Southwest, you don’t get an assigned seat. Instead, you are assigned a letter and number that determine your spot in the boarding order. You can pay a little extra to get A1-15 or you can hop online exactly 24 hours before your flight to maximize your chances of ending up in the lower As or Bs. According to my friend Laura (who is as much of a Southwest devotee as I am), as long as you end up in the Bs, you should be able to avoid the dreaded middle seat.
I have no scientific proof, but I am positive that boarding goes faster using Southwest’s method than the old boarding by zones practice of airlines like American and Delta.
6. Their customer service is awesome.
Has every flight I’ve ever taken with Southwest gone completely smoothly? No, of course not. But when I did encounter issues, their customer service team was fast to make up for it.
On a recent flight to San Diego, I found the in-flight wi-fi (for which I paid $8) was slower than internet in the mountains of Tajikistan. Absolutely nothing was loading. I could see my email inbox but couldn’t actually open or respond to any emails. So I tweeted my frustration:
dear @SouthwestAir, your in-flight wifi is horrible. i can barely check or send emails, it is so slow. can i get a refund?
— Katie Aune (@katieaune) April 8, 2014
It wasn’t long before I got a direct message from a Southwest customer service representative asking me for my flight and confirmation numbers and offering me a refund. Within about 24 hours, a refund was processed. Perfect.
Later on the same trip, I realized with embarrassment that I booked my return flight for the wrong date. I called to change the flight, explaining the situation to the woman on the other end of the phone. She laughed with me and quickly gave me my options for the next day. I was on and off the call in less than five minutes.
Going back more than a year, I encountered some delays while traveling between Chicago and Minneapolis. I tweeted about them and each time, a Southwest representative responded quickly to my tweet and not only apologized, but offered me a flight voucher to make up for my trouble (even when the delay really wasn’t Southwest’s fault at all). This happened not once, but twice, resulting in vouchers for two free flights. By comparison, I experienced a much more troubling delay with US Airways and tweeted about it and got a brief apology but nothing more.
I could go on and on – I have flown more than a dozen times in the last year and each time was on Southwest (aside from flying Qatar Airways to Nepal!). I don’t expect that to change anytime soon!
Have you flown Southwest? What has your experience been like?