In Aftermath Of Meltdown, Southwest Reminds Us One Way They’re Least Consumer-Friendly Airline

Southwest Airlines likes to remind customers about their friendly features. They don’t sell basic economy tickets. All of their tickets have been fully changeable. Their flight credits don’t expire. They offer two free checked bags.

But in the aftermath of their historic operational meltdown over the holidays, we have a reminder of one of the ways that Southwest Airlines goes to war with any tools that help customers compare prices and get the best deals.

  • Southwest Airlines doesn’t fully participate in airline distribution systems. If a consumer wants to buy a ticket, they usually need to go directly to Southwest to do so. (There are exceptions to this.)

  • They don’t let anyone else display their schedules or fares, or otherwise access their websites. And their lawyers aggressively go after anyone that tries.

AwardWallet and other mileage-tracking services can’t show you your Rapid Rewards balance.

Sites that have automated the process of checking in exactly 24 hours in advance to get the best boarding position have been shut down.

They’ve even gone to court to stop Skiplagged from showing its schedules and fares even though Skiplagged wasn’t getting those from Southwest’s website.

Now the browser extension that would let you see Southwest schedules and fares when searching Google flights has been shut down.

  • Wanderlog would take the search request you entered into Google flights, and then from your browser would search the Southwest website and insert the flight results into the Google Flights results.

  • Their servers didn’t access Southwest at all. None of the data passes through Wanderlog. It is just a tool that scripts your own search, and formats the results, all done on your own computer.

One result of Southwest not participating in global distribution systems is that it’s harder for consumers to compare prices. Southwest has a reputation as a low cost carrier but often isn’t cheap.

By the way, the Department of Transportation’s proposed fee disclose regulations would give Southwest’s attorneys a new tool, making Wanderlog and Skiplagged illegal. Under the rule, if Southwest chooses not to offer any details on fees to a website, the website would be in violation of federal regulations by displaying an airline’s schedules.

(HT: Jonathan W)

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, 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. In all fairness I see no problem with Southwest not allowing any agent to sell tickets for them through a consolidator platform

    They are basically saying come to our website and our ticketing agents for tickets. I’m guessing for the sole purpose of keeping all commissions in house

    it also make it harder for competitors to establish a process to automatically price match in certain markets

  2. In fact competitors have few limitations in this regard, check out United (non-basic economy) v Southwest pricing in Denver for instance.

  3. Interesting that the fares displayed for SWA on its own website, Google Flights or any other third party site are often the most expensive and are now for bags only (Southwest stopped reliably flying paying passengers weeks ago)..

  4. with respect to this recent meltdown the lack of interline agreements was a bigger issue than not being in GDS’

  5. @Ben – even if Southwest had an interline agreement, remember that other airlines were (1) running full and (2) recovering from their own weather-driven operational messes, there simply weren’t many seats to put passengers onto and there were hundreds of thousands of passengers needing seats per day (plus Southwest was offering to *reimburse* tickets purchased on other airlines). Unclear how much interlining could have helped here.

  6. Still don’t have my companion pass extension, expired on 12/31, supposed to be extended, nada.

  7. @Garry Leff – “even if Southwest had an interline agreement, remember that other airlines were (1) running full and….”

    Add in that in the present day, so much of U.S. domestic capacity is also offered by non-interline agreement carriers (Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit) or limited interlining (JetBlue).

  8. Interesting the operations meltdown was helped by their refusal to cooperate with others. They used to be my favorite airline but not anymore. #SouthwestAirline

  9. Commentators frequently refer to them as a low cost carrier, which is an anachronism. Can’t remember the last time they offered a lower fare than AA in Dallas. And often SWA is a connecting flight vs AA’s nonstop.

  10. Wow talk about incorrect information. Southwest airlines absolutely does participate in all of the major GDS’s. Travelport (Worldspan and Apollo) Amadeus and Sabre. Sabre was the last GDS to go live with eticketing and it happend in 2021. Travel agents can issue tickets and do exchange just like any other airline that is a full participant in the GDS’s. The lowest fares are not offered in the gds. Those are still on (basically those $29, $39 base fares). Don’t get me wrong. They are still a horrible airline. But if you fly Southwest, jet Blue, spirit, frontier etc. Then you know to expect they will have more problems then the others

  11. One thing that seems to be widely missed, or at least glossed over, is that interline agreements work both ways. The other airline has to agree and has to want the ability to put people on Southwest. AirTran used to have interlines with Frontier, Spirit, and Bahamasair. Those went away with the Southwest acquisition.

    Spirit made a number of efforts to gain interline agreements with airlines like US Airways, Delta, etc., as recently as a few years ago but those airlines declined – including Frontier who declined for “competitive reasons.”

  12. The issue is THE current CEO. This was in no way any employees lack of ANYTHING. How can you communicate what you do not know and no recourse, back up or ability to resolve the situation at the kiosk or counter. SWA employees
    ALWAYS find a creative way’s to “get it done” and leave their customers with a solid, and flawless experience. When the software and hardware fail, the employees are DEAD! in the water. Yet, customers yelled, screamed at these employees all over. Even kicking the counter and shaking fists at them. Who acts like that??
    The employees, ALWAYS and are trained WELL in communicating everything they know and more to passengers, in any given situation. Not this time!
    The software and hardware CRASHED. The world must have left their scruples at home that week. People all over, everyday KNOW that when a system CRASHES” ITS DONE AND OVER until tech support intervene and get you up and running again.
    This was not an option!
    The “entire system” needed new software and hardware.
    The “old/other” system needed new everything for quite some time..
    Gary Kelly, former CEO and ESPECIALLY Herb Kelleher would have NEVER let this happen! Herb is, I assure you, rolling in his grave.
    Poop falls from the top and lands on every tier of employee and ESPECIALLY ticket agents, pilots, operation agents, (the hero’s who board the plane), and especially flight attendants when passengers complete the boarding process.
    These passengers with their sob stories, boo hoo!
    What about the flight attendants stranded in freezing aircrafts for 4 days sleeping on the airplane seats and isles. What about the pilot who’s wife was dying of cancer and MISSED being there for her PASSING??
    Disneyland, Christmas meals and presents can all be done later. The widow pilot’s wives passing cannot be “done later”.
    What about the counter agents stuck behind the desks 24/7 for days with no break dealing with screaming and angry customers for circumstances out of their control but still being treated like dirt by “A list” customers. The stories passengers have are all very real and very hard on them and their families.
    SWA WILL reimburse EVERYONE! You mark my words! I swear on my bible.
    The employees, now left with PTSD to some degree are all at work trying to handle the aftermath. STILL dealing with unreasonable and angry passengers.
    I’m really tired of reading and hearing about the “vacations” missed.
    Its the life and deaths that really matter. IF everyone , but SWA employees could have a little compassion FOR SWA as a whole, minus this current CEO, I’d be confident in saying that
    SWA remains at the TOP and will continue to offer a
    consistent, low price, and memorable experience.
    THE flight attendants will continue to do an impeccable job at calming, welcoming, and giving FIRST CLASS service AFTER the mandatory safety check.SWA is NOT generally on a “low cost website” that allows you to find the most competitive rate!
    This comp was built with pride. It was created by Herb and 2 other gentlemen by drawing a triangle on a napkin. Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Its grown leaps and bounds by offering a smooth, and amazing experience
    “ON TIME” experience.
    When there is a delay, gate change, or cancelation,
    EVERYONE! Must know that it is for a damn good reason.. Other airlines copy SWA on safety standards. Look it up!
    SWA will do its job by “reimbursement” to ALL that
    Lost during the SWA “meltdown”.
    How much it will cost to recover is really none of our business, news or anyone, but SWA, investors, FAA and this current CEO that is in my opinion, NOT “SWA” martial. I watch and read his short comments and videos. He made NO promises to speak of.
    That’s NOT how SWA wants to be viewed especially after THIS! I hope they get another CEO that is the right fit. He’s just, by far, NOT SWA! The employees are compassionate, caring, and
    are honest as well as they ALL have an impeccable work ethic.
    I assure you, if passengers can just get on.the plane after the fun experience of security, the flight attendants are spectacular.
    Its always first class.
    “The beer is colder and the seats are bigger in the back!”

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