Southwest is America's greatest airline. Here are 6 reasons why

USA Today  2015-11-01 17:16:56

Image by MamaGeekSouthwest Airlines is unquestionably unique. The Dallas-based carrier has a business model that?s more or less the exact opposite of the rest of the industry, and in October it released a series of ads showcasing just how differently it conducts business.It?s no secret that the No. 1 factor when it comes to booking a flight is price. It?s why most of us book through third parties based on the lowest fares, and it?s why Spirit ? despite its nickel-and-diming business model and legion of haters ? is still raking in cash. As Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza told us, airlines recognize that price is often the determining factor when it comes to booking a flight, and as a result, airlines have sacrificed service in the name of those low base fares.This attitude has inspired airlines to treat fliers as some sort of sub-human species of cash-dispensing machines, and they?ll keep doing whatever they can to get more money out of us at every opportunity. But not Southwest.Southwest isn?t the cheapest airline, but it?s not the most expensive either. Yet, it?s still making plenty of money because it recognizes that the process of air travel is about as relaxing as Chinese cupping therapy, and when you?re already dealing with flight delays and airport security gropings, the rare moments when you?re treated like a human make a giant difference. That?s why Southwest customers go out of their way to book with the airline despite the fact that third-party booking sites like Kayak and Expedia don?t show Southwest fares. If you?re not one of those people, you?re doing it wrong. Here?s why:1) There are no change/cancellation fees: We?ve reached a point where most major U.S. carriers charge you about $200 to change your flight, plus any fare difference. Not only will Southwest let you change your flight as many times as you want without charging you a fee (though you do have to pay any fare difference), but in the event that the price goes down, Southwest will actually give you a credit to make up the difference. If that?s not enough, you can straight up cancel your flight up to 10 minutes before takeoff for a full refund toward a flight within the next year (after a year, you can pay $75 to validate a voucher for the same amount).2) Or luggage fees. Jetblue?s recent decision to start charging fliers to check bags has left Southwest as the sole carrier to offer free checked bags, and Southwest will let you check two for free ? that?s a savings of between $50 and $70 compared to other airlines. I can?t tell you how many times I?ve taken advantage of Southwest?s free bag-checking when I wasn?t expecting to. Want to avoid the half-mile walk between concourses at your layover in Houston with that roller bag that keeps swiveling to the right? Want to avoid turning that $10 bottle of artisanal ketchup from Brooklyn into a $35 bottle of artisanal ketchup thanks to the bag-check fee? Fly Southwest.3) You?ll board faster. Southwest doesn?t give fliers seat assignments. Instead, travelers check in 24 hours in advance, and are given a number in line. The deli-counter-style take-a-number system probably doesn?t appeal to everyone, but it has actually proven to be the fastest way to board a plane. Plus, it helps those who want to sit with their families or travel companions avoid paying exorbitant fees to sit together (remember that father who had to pay $88 to sit with his 4-year-old daughter?).4) You can afford priority access. If you do feel the need to ensure you?re among the first on the plane, Southwest will let you pay a very reasonable $12.50 each way for EarlyBird Check-in, regardless of the number of stops. The airline will automatically check you in and give you a number at the front of the line, giving you a great shot at extra leg room, and a near guarantee that you can snag seats with your fellow travelers, or at least choose whether you want to sit in a window or aisle.5) The route map is expanding. Southwest?s two big downfalls have always been 1) no real business class (if you care about such things) and 2) a lack of international flights. But when Southwest took over AirTran in 2011, it began flying seasonal international routes. Now, the airline just built a brand new international terminal in Houston and another is coming soon to Ft. Lauderdale. As of mid-October, Southwest began flying internationally year-round, and it now flies dozens of direct routes to Latin America and the Caribbean with plans to continue expanding.6) Southwest is fun. The carrier has been touted as the best airline to work for, and when you travel on Southwest, you can see why. It empowers employees to have fun and show their personalities. Sometimes that means you?ll endure questionable decisions like cranking the Top Gun theme during takeoff, but you might also get to pop in on a surprise wedding shower at the gate. If you?re really lucky, you?ll be on a flight with the rapping flight attendant. It?s nice traveling on an airline that isn?t staffed by robots. I highly recommend you try it sometime. Road Warrior Voices on Facebook!

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