To Southwest....or Not?

Looking for a fiery discussion? Southwest Airlines is the ultimate topic to ignite debates at your next holiday party! But are passengers thinking about their experience in the wrong way?

To Southwest....or Not?

When the topic of air travel arises, it often leads to discussions about different airlines and the various horror stories associated with each one. From flight delays and staffing issues to problems with baggage handling and overall service, there is always an interesting story to be told by travelers. However, when it comes to discussing a specific airline, Southwest Airlines seems to attract an unusually high level of criticism. While some of this criticism may be justified, there are also times when it is not. Despite all the negativity, Southwest consistently fills up their flights, with almost every seat occupied.

Perhaps we should consider looking at it from a different perspective, as suggested in an article written by Emily Thompson published in The Points Guy.

Low Prices

Southwest Airlines is known for its incredibly affordable prices, which is a major draw for passengers. According to Ms. Thompson in the article, she relies on the "low fare calendar" or receives emails about discounted fares to plan and finance her trips. While this can be helpful, not everyone has the flexibility to take time off whenever they want. What if you want to book a long weekend getaway or during holidays when you have limited availability due to work? In such cases, you'll end up paying more, sometimes even as much as the competition, without enjoying any additional amenities. This is also the base fare, and this is just to get a seat on the plane.

Free Checked Bags

This is the key differentiating factor that sets Southwest apart from other airlines, and it's the reason why I choose to book with them. The fact that I can check in my suitcase without any additional fees is a fantastic perk. In the past, I've had to purchase an extra small bag just to bring back souvenirs, so having the option to check in two bags for free is truly wonderful. While other airlines like Delta and American offer similar benefits, they usually require you to book or pay with their specific credit cards, and it's usually limited to just one bag. Southwest's policy not only makes it easier to avoid carry-on bags cluttering the overhead bins, but they have also started automating the self-check process, which helps streamline the whole experience. Of course, TSA still needs to screen the bags, but overall, Southwest's approach makes traveling much more convenient.

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Seat Selection

Southwest customers often find this to be their most significant concern. The check-in process can feel like a frantic race to secure a favorable position in line, with only a guaranteed spot in line and a seat. However, Ms. Thompson presents this as a positive aspect:

“If you want to skip to the front of the boarding line and increase your chances of getting a good seat, you can pay for the privilege. For example, passengers can purchase upgraded boarding to snag one of the first 15 boarding positions. You can also purchase EarlyBird Check-In, but those are options available to everyone and not part of some complicated hierarchy of passengers.”

What “hierarchy”?! Other airlines make it incredibly straightforward. If you desire a first-class experience, you can simply purchase a seat in that section. Alternatively, if you prefer economy, you have the option to pay a lower price for that. This approach provides customers with a range of choices, although it is likely that you will have to pay a higher amount. Both options eliminate the price debate since obtaining a better boarding position on the plane requires paying a premium, and Ms. Thompson does acknowledge as much:

Additionally, Southwest has four different fare types: Business Select, Anytime, Wanna Get Away Plus and Wanna Get Away. Business Select is the most expensive option and includes perks like an automatic A1-A15 boarding position and free inflight Wi-Fi. Still, these options are available (and usually relatively affordable) to everyone — no million-mile status required.

Certainly, but you're simply investing more for an improved boarding position, not a better seat. This is the key to Southwest's profitability. By choosing the pricier option, you only secure a higher position in the boarding process. Nevertheless, all the seats remain identical. Ms. Thompson concludes her perspective on open seating towards the conclusion of the article:

Speaking of seats, I view the open seating policy on Southwest as a benefit. It gives me the flexibility to choose a seat away from crying babies and bachelorette parties. However, the check-in and boarding process can be stressful for those accustomed to selecting their preferred seat ahead of time.

Yes, but there is no assurance for that. It is highly likely that groups will continue to sit in close proximity to one another. Families will still opt to sit together, and there is no guarantee that you won't find yourself seated away from individuals who may annoy you. In fact, there is a strong possibility that you will be crammed into seats like sardines, alongside someone who is larger in size than you. I recall a particular flight back from a destination where I had a window seat, but I might as well have been pressed against the window due to the presence of two very hefty men beside me. To make matters worse, they were also quite loud.

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The Verdict:

Having said all that, I am a frequent flyer with Southwest Airlines. I am well aware of what to expect and what not to expect when flying with them. Although I genuinely like Southwest Airlines, I don't fly with them on every trip. One of the reasons I choose them is because they serve many cities that are not covered by other major airlines. Despite being a budget airline, Southwest doesn't always feel like one. I appreciate their policy of allowing free checked bags, and their staff seems to have a lighthearted approach. However, it's important to acknowledge that seat selection can be a major inconvenience for passengers. If you book a low fare, you will most likely end up at the back of the line and have limited options for choosing your seat. Unless you opt for a higher position in line, you may be assigned a seat when you're the last one to board a full flight. As long as you are aware of these factors and prepare accordingly, you should have a satisfactory experience. Maybe that is why they’re so popular, and the airline people love to hate.