I’ve been doing a fair amount of flying in the last year, and Southwest is currently my favorite airline. In this post I will list reasons why Southwest is the best (in order of importance) and one thing I’d like to see improved.
Liberal reschedule policy
Probably the biggest benefit to me has been Southwest’s liberal flight rescheduling or cancellation policy. On many other airlines, changing or cancelling your flight reservation (whether it is days or months away), will cost you hundreds of dollars. Have something come up at the last minute? Well, you’re out a hundred bucks to change your flight by an hour or two. You can pay much more for a refundable ticket as well.
Southwest does not have this restriction, so even if you pay a little more for your ticket, if you use this option one time, you are going to come out ahead. Worst case, if you cancel, you get a credit to apply to future Southwest flights.
Another huge reason to fly Southwest is that it has the most sane system of any airline that I have flown to get people on the plane. There are three components that are all tied together: online check in, boarding, and seat selection.
Typically getting on the plane is a long, drawn-out process whereby you have a number of prestigious tiers and then finally you get to get on the plane. Passengers gather around the gate in some sort of cluster waiting for their group to be called, and then try to push past each other to get the opportunity to sit in their already preassigned seats instead of spreading out in the spacious airport with power outlets. I don’t see much benefit to checking in on other airlines.
Instead, on Southwest, online check works in first-in, first-on order. If you check in before others, you can get on the plane earlier. This is actually an advantage because you pick your seat when you get on the plane. There is a small queueing area where passengers line up in numerical order based on check-in time, and you just go on the plane in line order.
Want to sit by your friends or family? No worries, you can probably arrange it. Either book together and your check-in numbers will line up. Or get on the plane and you can probably hold a seat for them especially if you sit toward the back. Or maybe you could board later with them. Selfishly, I like that people who check in online the most quickly get the best seats, as I am generally by a computer with email so I get a jump on the crowd. I can see how this would benefit Southwest, as more people would check in earlier so they have more information on who is still planning on traveling.
One nice emergent effect of this system is that the aisle and window seats generally fill up first. If the plane is not full, you get maximal spacing between passengers.
No more being hangry on the plane. On somewhat long flights you will get free snacks, and not just peanuts. You can choose different types of crackers, cookies, chips, pretzels, and the like. The flight attendants are very generous with the snacks. Often they encourage people to take some more, or say “Come on, this isn’t Delta!”
“Bags Fly Free”
I haven’t needed to use this yet, but it’s nice to know that it is an option if I’m doing some serious travel. While other airlines charge a hefty fee per bag, Southwest lets you check a couple for free.
No drink cart
Another departure from the status quo that seems to make more sense is that the flight attendants don’t roll a hefty drink cart down the aisle to deliver drinks. Instead, Southwest staff take orders for a few rows on some sort of handheld device and then go back to the stock room and get drinks to deliver.
This approach has a few advantages. First, you can’t get bumped by the cart. Second, you don’t get blocked by the cart, so bathrooms are more open. I find it a bit more personalized and clean. It seems like they can probably store more things in the stock room than on the cart, and generally seems a bit more lightweight. I would even dare to say it is a bit more Lean, in that you are delivering things via a pull system rather than a push system.
Pretty big seats and fun attitude
I find the seats to be spacious relative to other airlines on the planes that I have flown on, and the boarding order strategy means that good seats (exit rows) are easier to come by for the same price as normal seats.
I generally like the crew’s attitude on the planes, it seems like they are having fun without being too much in your face about it.
About the only thing I’d like to see would be free Wi-Fi. They already have gate-to-gate Wi-Fi for eight dollars a day, but having it be free or baked into the ticket would be even better.
Anyone have any tricks for free Wi-Fi, or any good travel hacks to share?