8 Reasons You Should Still Fly Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines had a remarkably bad holiday period. As a result perhaps two million people had their travel interrupted, and the airline will report a loss for the fourth quarter. Their operations have recovered, but they have the daunting task of investing to make sure such a long tail event doesn’t repeat itself, and to convince customers to return.

Return they will, in part because there are things that Southwest Airlines does incredibly well, something that’s easily forgotten in the fog of how bad the last week and a half of 2022 was for the carrier and its customers. In fact, there are 8 reasons you should still fly Southwest Airlines:

  1. They give you more legroom. The airline is highly negligent in failing to market this aggressively, in my view. Southwest Airlines generally offers 32 inches of pitch, the distance from seat back to seat back. That’s two more inches of legroom than most U.S. airlines, and you aren’t paying more for ‘extra legroom seats’ to get that.

  2. Their flight credits don’t expire. If you can’t take a flight or need to change your plans, you can cancel for a credit. That’s true on most airlines, as long as you do not book a basic economy fare. But industry standard is to give you a year to use the credit, use it or lose it. Southwest credits though never expire. You can take as long as you need to use the credit, making it almost as good as cash (discounted to present value for however long it takes you to fly) if you’ll ever take another Southwest Airlines flight again in your life.

  3. No basic economy fares other airlines sell their cheapest tickets as ‘basic economy’ which entails various restrictions like no carry on bags, boarding last, and not being able to change your flight or retain credit for cancelling. Southwest doesn’t impose these restrictions at all.

  4. Two free checked bags if you’re going to check a bag, Southwest is usually cheaper for the same trip even if their ticket is more expensive (unless you have status with the other airline, or their co-brand credit card, and therefore get free bags with a competitor).

  5. No pre-assigned seats is better for last minute business travelers and for families. If I’m not booking my tickets a month or more in advance on American Airlines, all of the extra legroom aisle seats are frequently gone. Even an hour before the flight on Southwest, most seats are open. The only seats already taken before Southwest starts boarding are by passengers who stayed on board from a previous flight and are continuing to the next destination.

    If I buy a last minute highest-fare ticket that comes with the earliest boarding, offering earliest seat selection. An elite changing flights at the last minute, even after boarding order is assigned, still gets to board after the A group and can get a good seat (versus taking only what it left at the last minute on another airline). Holding out seats and not assigning them means last minute switches and last minute purchases still have access to better seats.

    Meanwhile families traveling with lap infants are almost guaranteed to get an ‘extra seat’ for free, because very few people will take the seat next to the baby if there are other open seats on the aircraft. That’s more value to families at a lower price.

  6. Their employees don’t hate their jobs. Something that really sets Southwest Airlines apart is their culture of fun. Employees seem to like their jobs, which is a real contrast from employees at many other airlines. And that fun is infectious, from the announcements they make on board, to games played during delayed (like pass the toilet paper roll down the aisle), to friendly interactions when passing out snacks and serving drinks. Passengers often want most to be treated like human beings during air travel, rather than self-loading cargo, and that’s an area where Southwest shines.

  7. More fun on board. Southwest employees enjoy their jobs, and it’s infectious. You can peruse their twitter feed, with customers sharing stories from their journeys, and frequently you’ll find talk (and video!) of the antics that happen on board.

  8. More domestic flights to get you where you want to go, when you want to go. Southwest is far larger than most people realize. That’s also why their meltdown had such a major impact. But it also means more flight choices to get to your destination. They’re the largest carrier in a large number of the biggest city pairs, and the largest domestic airline overall. In many cities it’s hard to avoid flying Southwest without major inconvenience. They’re the biggest airline in my own home market of Austin. So enjoy the things that make them enjoyable, take comfort that they’re at least covering the costs of passengers who were inconvenienced over the holidays, and are handing out points like candy – I got 25,000 points and was only delayed an hour.

What do you think? If you were a Southwest Airlines customer, will you be returning?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I haven’t flown SW since early December. I’ll provide a data point tomorrow. Funny thing is that I just canceled my AA backup flight since SW appears to be operating ‘normally.’

  2. I’ve stopped flying SW a long time ago and what transpired over Christmas reinforced why I should never fly SW unless I have no choice. Also, for me the biggest reason to not fly SW is the miles or points that you earn can NOT take you overseas to Europe, Asia, Oceania….etc. On United, through flying both for business and personal reasons I’ve accumulated enough miles to fly roundtrip from SFO to Sydney a couple of times and also enough miles to upgrade to Business from Sydney to SFO a few times! Now try that on SW.

  3. The boarding order is always hyped as a benefit but if you think B1 is an early group – between groups A and B come all of those needing assistance and their entourage and families that always seem to be much larger than the typical 2.2 kids. You could be 150+ deep on early boarding before B1 seats. At least with AA and Delta et al you know what your seat is. 150+ already on board on SWA means center seats as a B1

  4. @Bill Sell.

    I’ve had mid B’s and got an aisle/window seat in Row 1 bulkhead as a single flyer. Works for me most of the time. YMMV. Oh, and if I see a bag on the middle seat, I always ask if someone is sitting there. Most times the bag gets moved. 😉

  5. Very good post Gary. Clearly doesn’t apply to those looking for premium overseas cabins but for the rest all your points are spot on. I have had B1 boarding and managed to get a decent seat most of the time.
    My only problem w WN is despite being the largest carrier in the market they don’t really have an effective solution for coast-to-coast flyers, as their mostly point-to-point network makes fares way higher. For example I have never found WN competitive on say SJC/SFO-BOS unless one is booking last minute.

  6. I guess no one else has yet commented?

    I like the blog, but none of these are compelling reasons to me, and I’m sure also not others.

    1. “more legroom” – this is dubious and maybe on paper this is the case, but I can tell you that as a 6’2″ traveler, SW seats has me tight in the knees on par with United, which is perhaps just marginally worse. JetBlue wins this contest and generally Delta is not bad either, depending on plane/configuration.

    2. Non-expiring credits – yes technically true but not compelling enough. Most other major airlines give credits for 24-36 months (not 12) so as long as you are flying more than once a year, you will likely use them.

    3. No basic economy – yes true, but I have credit cards for United, Delta, AA (but not flying them unless absolutely unavoidable), JetBlue, Alaska, and Southwest so most negative aspects of basic economy are negated for cardholders (e.g. checked bags for free with the card, better boarding position with the card).

    4. Two free bags – yes this is a good benefit, but not the value proposition of note when you have another airline’s credit card that gives one free bag.

    5. No assigned seats can also be seen as stressful and generally not what most people prefer. For example, I didn’t check in for my SW flight the week of Christmas until a few hours beforehand because I wasn’t sure if I was going with the dicey weather, which then gave me the LAST boarding position on the plane, which would then mean no room for my carry on (which I did not want to check for an only 3.5 day trip and because it was a late night flight so didn’t want to wait for bag). Thankfully I was able to “upgrade” to business select last minute for actually not that much (I think $60?) to gain early access to the overhead bin, but on other airlines I’m generally automatically in an early boarding group.

    6. Employees who don’t “hate” their jobs – again this is a vast generalization and I’d say in the last couple years most employees I interact with at the major U.S. carriers all seem to be indifferent or favorable of their airline employer, with the exception of AA. I also think Southwest’s light-hearted “culture” has suffered/changed in last few years so its employees act and speak like other airlines.

    7. “Fun-loving” – again, this seems to be much more in the past. I have been flying Southwest since 1992 and definitely seen that firsthand (e.g. uniforms with lots of “bling,” fun/funny overhead announcements, etc.) but haven’t really witnessed it in the last few years

    8. More destinations – yes they are heavy in places like Denver, Chicago, and Texas, but there are competitors in all those markets as well, so it depends on where you are and where you need to go.

    While I did cash in 25,000 points (but the process involved various emails and websites and many people likely will not cash them in as it required getting a personalized “voucher code” that was buried in a dumb apology email from the CEO that I never read until I read on this blog or another site that it was a multi-step process to get the points, which are then input to points.com) and that was a nice “gesture,” it certainly does not automatically ingratiate them to me and now they are on the bottom of the airlines pile for me, except for AA.

    Yes, many people will “forget” about their meltdown, many others also will not, as it got so much media attention and it occurred at the holidays and disrupted so many people’s plans, and was generally avoidable other than DIRECT weather impacts.

    While I did not suffer like most people, they did cancel my outbound flight (12/24) and then rebooked me to THREE DAYS LATER but thankfully I was able to buy a last minute United flight and I am so grateful that it was only $176 one way booked only hours before take off. Their meltdown due to antiquated technology is completely unacceptable and sends a signal that they definitely favor profits at the cost of their customer base, and when it’s obvious the corporation does not care, it is easy to take dollars to another company that at least can give the semblance that they care about customer service.

  7. Southwest is fine to fly. I will do so if they can get me to my destination faster and at lower cost to the other major (non=ULCC) carriers. But the value equation of flying Southwest has dimminshed in recent years, as the other major airlines have largely relaxed their draconian cancellation/change penalties. I prefer those airlines now to Southwest, with everything else equal.

  8. Southwest is better for families, oh, please, maybe comparing to American they are. Anything is better than American. Reason #8 must be the first – for half of the country SW is a logical choice not because of price or legroom but simple convenience. Even if one lives near the legacy’s hub, the only advantage over SW legacy has is a direct to another hub or short spoke flight. Anything else requires a connection, while SW may have a nonstop or even a connection, but a) more of them and b) they fly from smaller and more convenient airports. My nearest hub is SFO, so if I need to go DEN, ORD, East Coast or Florida, I’ll take United, SEA/PDX – probably Alaska. For anything else (LAS, rest of California and the whole West) I’ll take SW from SJC/OAK instead. They are smaller and easier and have better schedule to SLC than Delta and to PHX than American from SFO.
    Regarding would I fly SW again – sure, I have lot of points and credits to burn with them for non-critical itineraries and when I’m on budget vacation. I rarely pay them money, usually URs and SUBs.
    Also there lot of people who plan their travels around low fare companion pass schedules, they will continue to fly them too

  9. I can pay for a ticket. Or I can be in the audience for off-key strip mall Mariah Carey and her cringey stand-up comedian wannabe colleagues.

    It can’t be both.

  10. This is stupid. There aren’t that many airlines to choose from. I’m not going to never book Southwest because they’re apparently incompetent. I’m just going to avoid them when possible because I don’t like them. You like them, great, good for you. I like my Mac and iPhone. You can use your Windows PC and Android. No skin off my nose. Do what you like.

    If Southwest has the only nonstop for where I need to go, then I’ll probably fly them; it would be stupid not to. Same goes for Spirit, Frontier, etc.

    But I’m just always going to prefer any of the legacy carriers, or JetBlue, over Southwest, as I have for years, due to Southwest’s lack of assigned seating, their refusal to allow pricing to show in portals, their lack of amenities, their lack of seating options, their lack of transcon routes, and the uselessness of their points for anything other than Southwest.

    SBA>LAS? Great. Southwest’s got it, no one else does. SBA>DEN? United every time unless Southwest really is like less than half the price, and maybe not even then. NYC departure? Lots of choices, Southwest very unlikely.

    I mean, I’ll take a bus too, if it happens to make the most sense. It’s not worth having a policy around. But there’s also no reason to prefer a bus unless you, personally, really like to travel by bus, or feel some ineffable affinity towards some specific bus company.

  11. @ivan x, your post is spot on for me. I am based in DEN and have status with UA. Never going to fly WN because all my travel is funded by my business. I’ve been with UA for 26 years. I’m clearly not WN’s target market and never want to be. I’ll take DL, AS or AA prior to flying WN. And I’m sorry, but the meltdown was management incompetence – pure and simple.

  12. Their flight credits ABSOLUTELY expire which is why I stopped flying them. I canceled a flight in early 2021 because I still didn’t feel comfortable flying and they expired my credit 6 at the end of the year.

  13. Reason #9…they will cancel your flight and leave you stranded to pay out of pocket and not give 2 sh**ts in helping you get to your destination

  14. Stopped flying WN years ago. It was always Greyhound with wings, though for a time, it had decent customer service but the airline is a mess and its model doesn’t work.

  15. Here in Hawaii they have been a disappointment……their inter island is unreliable and flying them transpacific is a weak alternative to everyone else. Their whole shtick doesn’t go to well here.
    Predatory self promoters are frowned upon in Hawaii and now that they have proven they expanded beyond what they were capable off it will be some time before many forget what they did to their Xmas plans.

  16. 6 and 7 are generalizations that WN would love to believe are true but are simply not for any more of their employees than for other airlines.
    There are many employees at other airlines that like their job and do them well.
    WN has a simple product w/ simple systems that cannot support the challenges that operating a hub operation provides.
    And given how many passengers connect at WN’s major bases such as BWI, MDW, DAL DEN and LAS PHX OAK etc, they connect as high of a percentage as true hub carriers.
    WN is a marketing company that happens to fly airplanes. They have always been about trying to create and sell an image.
    Legacy carriers have created costly but far more lucrative businesses. The big 3 generate almost twice as much revenue per year as WN. Delta has a higher market cap than Southwest right now. The two have been virtually tied for years with DAL ahead at some times while LUV was ahead at others. DAL and UAL will both generate higher profits for 2022 and 2023 than LUV.

    LUV is a large airline that dominates its major markets but has had to compete with legacy carriers and have not fared near as well where they have to compete in other carrier hubs. Witness how small WN is relative to DL at ATL, the fact that WN left EWR and even that WN has shrunk at FLL while Spirit and JetBlue have grown.

    Many passengers, including business passengers don’t want the simple, one size fits all product that WN offers.

    Southwest will recover and they will continue to have a loyal following. But their Christmas 2022 meltdown cost them dearly.

  17. Are corny jokes, immaturity, and flippancy by boarding agents and flight attendants OK? Not when you are sad and are flying to a funeral.

  18. The only reason we fly WN is companion pass. We’re at the point that we buy anytime fares now to get early bird check-in, it’s the best option since I didn’t requalify for A-List this year. Legroom is better than the others.

    My biggest problem is the pre board group. We prefer the bulkhead seats and those are typically taken by pre boarders. The times I’ve purchased biz select seats, I’ve even been boarding position A1 before on a non continuing flight and still haven’t gotten the seat I wanted. While it’s an inconvenience for me it doesn’t make sense that, especially for those buying biz select tickets, the pre boarding folks snag the preferred seats first

  19. @ChrisB…..very true, again, in Hawaii, some of the Boarding Agents and Flight Attendants have made real fools of themselves at their attempts of cultural appropriation.. I even saw their CEO on a morning news show being interviewed and do the same.

  20. Gary,
    I find that this whole thing doesn’t really affect me a lot. My main two destinations I fly with SWA are nonstops that fly cheaper than anyone else with no nonstop alternatives so it is what it is.

    One thing that I feel you should write about is the fine print of SWA’s 25k ‘apology’ points that expire in barely two months! Not giving people a lot of time to use them before they lose them there.

  21. #9 If you miss your flight or it is cancelled it may be 5 -8 days before we will get you on another flight home. Oh and the cost of the wait is on you.

    #10 We do not fly to places you really want to go or need to go (Canada, Europe)

    #11 We are not always cheaper then other airlines that fly the same routes and our slot times never work well for most people

  22. The real farce here is that Southwest acts as though the “weather events” at Christmas were the substantial cause of their meltdown, even while finally conceding (because they had to) that their ancient technology needs a complete overhaul. The truth is that Southwest has been getting away with this nonsense for YEARS. I can’t tell you how many times myself and/or family members have been left stranded at an airport due to “weather” when in fact there was no such problem whatsoever (often as we watched other carriers effortlessly takeoff and land for hours and hours before our very eyes). Somehow a five minute cloudburst over Phoenix becomes a “weather event” used to justify cancellations and long delays all over the east coast when in fact it was Southwest’s refusal to make the appropriate technological investments which was consistently causing the problems (but of course by playing the “weather” card they never had to compensate their passengers). And PLEASE do not tell me they are a discount airline. Southwest has the market cornered on Long Island out Islip MacArthur Airport due to a lack of other carriers and they gouge the daylights out of their customers in that market while at the same time offering incredibly inconvenient service due to virtually every flight needing to be payed over in Baltimore. For example the Long Island to Raleigh Durham route is a one hour and 15 minute flight gate to gate, a simple up and down (Frontier used to fly it non-stop) and fares should be no more than $150 each way (Frontier was far less because they actually ARE a discount airline) as evidenced by others carrier’s fares and flight times out of LGA and JFK. Not with Southwest though. Nope, here we have the privilege of paying upwards of $350 each way to take flights that, with the ridiculous layovers, take anywhere from three hours and 15 minutes to seven hours. My family and I became so disgusted with Southwest that we finally had enough and determined that driving into either LGA or JFK was way less expensive and aggravating (imagine that!) than putting up with Southwest’s nonsense any longer. Good riddance!

  23. I posted a comment on this article an hour ago. It has not appeared yet. The article is in my opinion and that of others overly favorable to Southwest; my post was anything but. Is that why it has not appeared?

  24. @John Rouse “I posted a comment on this article an hour ago. ”

    Sometimes comments are flagged for review… by someone that hasn’t commented before, for posting links that are often associated with spam, any number of reasons.

    And then sometimes I see those right away and clear them. Other times it takes a bit longer. I was away from the computer for a couple of hours! (This site really is just me..)

Comments are closed.