Southwest Airlines: Internal Document Shows Why They Believe They’re Better For Customers

Southwest Airlines has given its employees a refresher on why they have the most “customer friendly policies.” Noting that competitor airlines have made changes to offer no change fees on most fares, and free same day standby in some cases, Southwest presents itself as the leader and only airline offering customer-friendly benefits in ‘every category’.

Naturally the chart is misleading – but it also leaves out the most important customer benefit, something that Southwest never markets, and therefore that passengers don’t usually realize sets them apart.

A lot of this comes down to ‘we don’t offer basic economy fares’.

  • Southwest doesn’t have cancel and change fees, because other airlines offer a subset of fares that are restrictive and either do not allow changes or charge for them.

  • Basic economy fares may also exclude same day changes, and also free award ticket redeposit.

  • Delta and JetBlue actually impose draconian restrictions on their cheapest award tickets – though Southwest’s chart should show JetBlue the same way they show Delta, which is that the lack of free award cancel and redeposit applies only to basic economy. (Interestingly, Southwest also shows JetBlue under its old stylized ‘jetBlue’ – which I sometimes do, too, for the same reason I sometimes go to when I want the Southwest Airlines website.)

Oddly same day standby gets a check mark for airlines which exclude it on basic economy fares, but an X where basic economy fares prevent free changes and free award redeposit. That’s likely because Southwest wants to give itself a check mark here and their own benefit isn’t as generous as some competitors.

And of course Southwest leaves out categories in which it doesn’t come out on top. For instance Southwest Airlines recently raised the cost of internet to $8 per flight segment from $8 per day, while both JetBlue and Delta generally offer free internet, that’s faster than what Southwest has.

What’s truly marketing malpractice, though, is Southwest’s failure to market what may be their best advantage: more legroom in standard coach than other U.S. airlines. Delta, United, and American allot 30 inches for each coach seat as standard. Southwest has 31 inches on its Boeing 737-700s and 32 or more inches on its 737-800s and 737 MAX 8s. I find the extra two inches on the bulk of their fleet to be the difference between opening my laptop or not, so this matters even to someone that’s rather short.

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. To my mind no checked bag fees is what really matters. Never mind that I usually get 1 or 2 free on some lines depending on whether I’m alone or under my wife’s higher status reservation. (And one of several reasons why I make a real effort to avoid the local Sun Country airline, which still charges even when using their own card.) I know its just business, but it is still a nasty thing they brought back and you know has led to endless problems with carry on items. And Southwest just has a happier corporate culture.

  2. While you still get a character or two on a SW flight, since you have to go through their website you typically don’t get the dregs of society from the crowd.

  3. Err they (and you) forget to mention the reason I and many others avoid SW at all costs – no assigned seating, let alone no premium cabin option. It’s a non-starter for me.

  4. The *only* point of basic economy is the price, and in competitive markets SWA sells tickets for similar prices as basic economy of other airlines, so why the heck do you care they call it “wanna get away”, not “basic economy”?

  5. SW has been my go-to for many reasons, some of which are: no checked bag fees, they generally treat you fairly well or at least better than most usually, and more BUT they just shrunk their carry-on size down to ridiculous requirements!! Many of us bought luggage to be able to fit the old dimensions and now are forced to rebuy luggage all over again…excuse me, I think NOT!!! Now looking for a decent airline.

  6. I stayed away from SW for many years but have come back: I like the extra legroom when I have to fly Economy and don’t want to pay for Econ+ somewhere else. I like the free bags. I like the free companion deal. We’re losing it in December but I will be working on it again soon.

  7. I think I have flown Southwest only once. The flight was perfectly fine if I remember right. I just don’t find a schedule and price that is the best. Since JetBlue has offered non-stop flights to where I am going, I have been taking them. I usually get the basic fare and add on a seat assignment and a checked bag since there is no carry-on allowed at that price. I can carry what I need to carry on in my small personal item and the checked bag is larger than a carry-on bag. Those two added cause the total cost to still be less than the next higher price coach ticket class. The rest of the charted checkmarks don’t matter much to me.

  8. We LUV LUV LUV Southwest in the Hawaiian Islands. They are a life savior for many families wanting to travel to other islands to reconnect. Before Hawaiian Airlines had the monopoly. They were taking your first born every time you fly to another island. Southwest has newer jets, clean, professional staff, snacks and free bags. Cant beat the value! Luv you southwest and MAHALO for serving Hilo-Honolulu routes. The locals love you! Aloha

  9. I agree that the no check bag policy is a bonus; besides not humping my own
    bag around two airports, frees up bin space when I don’t.

    What is best of all is the flexibility resulting from the cancellation policy; I can book, or basically reserve the best fare while my own and my companions’ travel plans are still in flux. I don’t abuse this, but it’s a great comfort while you’re doing logistics. And life things do get in a way at times.

  10. While some of the checkmarks are true, some are not. They are just trying to promote themselves. Let the consumer/ passenger decide. Their open seat unassigned seat policy is not a good thing.

  11. I have flown Southwest for many years. The problem I am running into is that they allow people to save seats. I pay extra to board in an earlier group because I have a bad hip and need an aisle. Many times when I try to sit down someone has saved a seat and that “person” is boarding in group C. I paid extra and as bad as it has gotten they should just go with assigned seating. Same thing is happening with pre-board with people who say they need extra time to board but knock you down sprinting to get off the plane. Other airlines are equal in price.

  12. @jns: I like JetBlue nonstop flights too, but a little too often they become nonstart flights. JetBlue likes to blame Air Traffic Control but the root cause is overambitious scheduling.

  13. @nsx at FlyerTalk, I have not had that problem on JetBlue. One flight was very late but I got a voucher that I used to pay for most of the round trip flight the next year. Overall I am happy with the pitch of the seats and the service I am getting. I buy the basic round trip ticket, add a seat assignment and a checked bag each way, all for a total less than the next higher coach class ticket. Getting on in the last group is fine if I am not carrying a carry-on.

  14. When things go wrong on their end or changes come up on my end, Southwest has the best customer service in American aviation. They’re quick to apologize, issue credits, and ensure that I’m satisfied with quick bag delivery, friendly and caring staff, and vouchers.

    Delta and SWA get all of my business.

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