Why I Love to Fly Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines flight
Photo courtesy of Michael Dorausch via Flickr.

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:

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?


25 thoughts on “Why I Love to Fly Southwest Airlines”

  1. Other than Virgin, Southwest is my favourite airline. I normally prefer to travel by train or ship, but it’ll always be a bit more tolerable if I’m flying Southwest or Virgin.

  2. Melanie Powers

    Coincidentally, a friend is currently in San Diego for a conference and was in the middle of working at the conference — she’s association staff — and couldn’t check in exactly 24 hours beforehand. She got in the C group today. Then, after they all boarded and sat on the runway for 45 minutes because of bad winds (could happen to any airline, I know), Southwest said they had to remove several passengers. Why? To lighten the load? I don’t understand it, but they kicked off everyone in the C section after they sat there for 45 minutes. And their luggage stayed on board. Apparently they also asked a father and his crying son to leave, though he was in the B section, because his son was agitated. The man’s wife and infant stayed on the plane. My friend is a yoga teacher and about the most Zen person I know, so she’s definitely not a drama queen. If she thought this was outrageous, it was outrageous.

  3. Whether you like Southwest or not, you really can’t ignore the changes the airline is experiencing. Looking beyond their snazzy TV commercials at their business model, the company excelled in the mid-2000s through a smart bet on oil hedges to keep fuel prices low. But those hedges have expired. On many routes, Southwest’s price competitiveness is gone. And in some/many instances, Southwest is substantially more expensive than rival airlines (plus, the added “convenience” of not being able to take a non-stop flight on many Southwest trips). They built themselves as a low-cost airline that’s not low cost anymore.

    I get why vacationers like Southwest. The flight attendant thing is great for the kids. If you don’t fly frequently enough to have any benefits/status, their simplistic marketing/pricing strategy can be appealing. The open seating model is hugely appealing to larger groups and families with small children. But if you have to fly seriously and often, the inflexibility of the Southwest model becomes a real challenge that no amount of snazzy marketing hogwash is going to fix. Those challenges include lack of direct flights, poor geographic coverage in some parts of the country, multi-segments for even basic trips, lack of international connections/transfers, using smaller airports that are often much further away from cities, fewer daily flights…and the list goes on.

    1. Interesting take. I do fly fairly often and I find Southwest very flexible – for the reasons I mentioned in the post. The no change fees is awesome. Living in Chicago, I’m fortunate in that I can fly a lot of places on Southwest without needing a layover anywhere. I’ve flown them to Boston, DC, Atlanta, New York, Memphis and Minneapolis in the last year, all direct. And will be flying to Phoenix direct later this month. Sure, they don’t fly international (although they are supposed to be launching some routes and AirTran flies to some Caribbean/Mexican destinations), I generally try not to book any US based airlines for international flights anyway. And I still have yet to find a situation where Southwest is not the lowest cost option for me – sometimes they may be the same as other airlines, but never more expensive.

    2. Melanie Powers

      Lance, vey well said. Southwest is rarely the cheapest flight option for me, unless I want to leave at some odd hour. I flew it twice this year because once was for work and the price was comparable and I like flying into Midway over O’Hare. The other time was Key West because of the convenience factor.

  4. I agree with you. I live in Phoenix and the two main choices are Southwest & USAir. I have been flying USAir the most because the flights were usually cheaper than Southwest and I could fly internationally. It has gotten to the point where I am sick of USAir/American and am going to fly Southwest a lot more.

    I flew them a couple of weeks ago and the experience was so much better. You are also right about the boarding being faster.

  5. Melanie Powers

    I really want to like Southwest for all the reasons you stated BUT I hate their boarding process. I’m not always able to check in exactly 24 hours ahead of time because of meetings or phone calls or whatever and doing this time after time correctly exactly on the right minute still only gets me a B seat, which means I have to wait and head to the back of the plane to get my preferred window seat. I think boarding takes forever because people in the Bs wander around, seemingly lost, wondering which seat to choose. And then all the C people pass by the middle seats next to large people or babies, which is just a mean, sad thing to have to watch, let alone experience (I’m neither large, nor a baby, just sympathetic). Give me Delta or United any day and I’ll carry on my bag, thanks.

    1. To each their own, I guess. I’ve often checked in on my phone when I haven’t been able to get to a computer and then just print my boarding pass later. I feel like when I board, everyone just naturally grabs the first available aisle/window they come to so it moves pretty quickly. Once I’m seated, I tend to sit there hoping no one will sit next to me, so I’ve never thought of it as mean as people pass me by, but with a sense of relief.

  6. My only complaint about southwest is they are very bad about updating you when the flights are delayed. I have flown them for over 20 years and they still haven’t figured out that part.

  7. I’m actually a continental girl…er I mean United girl, because most of my mileage is with them. They have their faults. I do like Southwest. The airport they fly out of is okay and has issues, but it’s closer for me. My only beef with Southwest right now is the flight price. It’s so much more expensive for me to fly Southwest than United. I fly United a lot, so I don’t pay for baggage due to my status. Even factoring in cost of driving to the other airport (much farther away) and if I had to pay for baggage, Southwest is still more expensive. I don’t know what it is about flying out of Houston, but it’s a problem for lots of flights. It frustrates me.

    however, I love their customer service, their flight attendants, and boarding process.

    1. Yeah, living in Chicago I am definitely lucky with our flight options. Southwest is always on the low end of options for me.

    1. Ugh, hate United. They mysteriously lost all record of my frequent flyer account after I flew with them to Australia, racking up a TON of miles. Don’t think I’ve flown with them since and that was 9 years ago.

  8. I also love flying Southwest when I’m in the US. I really don’t care where I sit so long as I get to where I need to be. Not paying to check a bag and being able to change flights are also great features.

  9. I don’t fly a whole lot in the US these days, so I can’t say I have a lot of experience with Southwest. But that recent viral video of the funny flight attendant certainly supports your claim of a good flight crew. And they do great stuff on social media.

  10. I’m one of those people that doesn’t have kind things to say about Southwest. I fly United (chosen only because I’m based in Chicago and they offer the most flights) for business. As someone who flies enough to get status on an airline it makes sense for me to go with a more traditional carrier. The benefits are (slightly) better. I also like flying out of O’Hare instead of Midway and prefer all my miles and points to be able to used for international trips.

    Honestly though, a huge reason I don’t like Southwest is not having an assigned seat. I just hate not knowing in advance. I do see the appeal of Southwest for a lot of people, but as a business traveler it hasn’t been worth it for me personally. My coworkers loyal to Southwest are starting to switch over as well, saying that even those with status no longer get free flight changes. Or maybe that the difference in price was too high? I know that I usually check Southwest before booking a flight and half of the time the flights are as expensive or more so than United—but it all depends on the route. The airline industry changes so often, and my views are based on having status with an airline and needing to fly last minute at specific times… I’m sure if I was flying once or twice a year I’d go for the cheapest price.

    1. You just reminded me of another reason I love Southwest – I much prefer flying out of Midway than out of O’Hare! And many of the waiting areas for Southwest at Midway have comfy chairs with outlets where you can plug in and charge your phone or laptop while you’re waiting. 🙂

      I will give you that it can be tough to find last minute deals on Southwest – their best fares have to be booked 7 days out. So if you change last minute, you will end up paying more in the fare difference (like my booking mistake cost me $200 because of the fare difference, but I at least didn’t have to pay a change fee on top of it).

      1. A LOT of people prefer Midway. I don’t often have the delays and problems others have with O’Hare (luck maybe?) and it just feels *nicer* somehow. It depends on the terminal though (I’m not a fan of terminal 2, and I like 1 except for the plug issue). But so many other airports are SO much nicer than either of our choices. I love the jetBlue terminal at JFK but rarely get to fly them.

        I also live off the blue line and 2 blocks from the expressway so I can get to O’Hare much faster than most. I’ve timed myself and my record is bed to gate in 50 minutes.

        Yeah… if I were changing tickets it would because a job was done earlier so I’d be changing with less than 6 hours notice. But I hear ya on the fees—they are ridiculous on non-Southwest carriers. If only I was 1 higher status level on United I’d get free changed flights at any time, no difference in price either. I would have to fly a lot more international trips to make it to gold though, sadly.

  11. Another Southwest fan here! We book with Rapid Rewards points pretty often, and it’s even easier to book (and subsequently cancel) a few prospective flights with points, if you’re not sure what your travel plans need to be. If you frequently travel with a family member or friend, the Southwest companion pass is pretty amazing as well!

  12. I think the other line in the song is “We hope you enjoyed our hospitality” 🙂 They sing it on AirTrain as well!

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