10 Reasons Why I Love Southwest Airlines – Hint: It’s just as much about the airports…

I’m writing this particular post, and it is a long one, to address all my friends and family who give me that look when I say I’m on a Southwest flight…. “Southwest? You?”  Yes, me. Apparently I am a travel snob, so read on.  (And remember, this is my personal view from personal experience and has nothing to do with the companies for whom I work or have worked.)

If you know me, you know most of my flying lately is, unfortunately, domestic.  You also know I *love* Southwest.  I’m on two or three Southwest flights a week. Truth is; I’ve been flying all my life, but I hadn’t flown them until four years ago.  All I knew about Southwest was they were the “wacky” airline.  Their flight attendants sang, you didn’t have assigned seating and apparently, they were a cult who would secretly brainwash you into never wanting to fly another airline again.  Boy, was I right.

As most of you know, I am from NJ.  Yes, I’m from Jersey.  Got a problem with that? I didn’t think so.   Four years ago, I moved to (ready???) Indiana. Yep, I’m a Hoosier-in-training though I complain about the horrific pizza and the lack of real bagels in the state. While I’m in northwest Indiana, under 20 miles away from Chicago, it might as well be another planet because I actually believe it *is* another planet, but that’s another post.

Since I moved, I have worked, for the most part, either in NY or in DC, meaning I commute to work via plane.  For the first couple of months, I flew out of O’Hare to LaGuardia. O’Hare is big, but at 4:30AM, you manage just fine.

I’d normally fly another airline from O’Hare to LaGuardia.  Let’s just say my experiences were less than “okay.”  Sure I was “preferred” and got access to special security lines and to clubs.  While these special “privileges” made me feel important, the travel part was such a hassle, especially since so many others were part of this so-called “preferred” echelon.  It was hardly exclusive.

One day, I saw an announcement about Southwest starting flights to LaGuardia.  Price?  Next to nothing.  So, I thought I’d give it a try.  Southwest departs from Midway though and I’d never flown them and had only once flown into Midway before.  My first Southwest flight out of Midway changed my travel life forever.

Midway is the near perfect secondary airport; small (but not tiny), convenient and clean.  It has a sufficient amount of shops and eateries and you can practically park your car at the gate.  At 4:30 AM (to make a 6:00AM flight) it’s nearly empty.  It does get filled as the day progresses, but what airport doesn’t?

I have to admit, my first SWA flight was a bit confusing; it felt like the deli line at the supermarket, complete with numbered tickets (a.k.a. boarding pass).  The boarding passes are numbered; A1-A60, then B1-B60, then C1-C60.  You line up and board by number (A’s first, then B’s, then C’s) then you get on and sit where you like.  If you look confused while in the boarding area, these Southwest cult members (a.k.a. passengers) will gladly explain the system and even do so politely.  Really, everyone is nice and happy to point a new guy in the right direction.

The flight? Fun. Really, fun.  The first flight attendant announcement I heard included “We’ve got three of the best flight attendants in the sky. Unfortunately, none of those people were available, so you’re stuck with this crew.”  The oxygen announcement continued “if you’re traveling with children… or with your husband who acts like a child…..”  Half way to NYC, the flight attendant had the entire plane sing “happy birthday” for a child passenger.

They say companies should treat their employees the way they want their employees to treat their customers. I can only assume SWA employees are happy, because they “get” customer service.  If singing flight attendants, open seating and helpful seatmates don’t do anything for you, here are my top ten reasons I love Southwest Airlines.

  1. Employees give great service.  From the flight attendants to the gate agents to the stateside call center employees, these folks “get it” and prove it at every opportunity.  They even provide great service when things are not their fault.  On a trip from LGA to MDW two years ago, all flights were stopped in or out for hours due to a bad storm.  They made announcements regularly and after a couple of hours, even brought out food and drinks.  The other airline passengers at gates next to ours were screaming, saying “they get announcements, drinks AND food and you can’t answer a question for us?  Why didn’t I fly Southwest?”
  2. Secondary airports rock.  I’ll take Fort Lauderdale over Miami or Midway over O’Hare any day.  Traveling is hard enough and not having to cover long distances within an airport is nice.
  3. Earning free flights is easy.  Rapid Rewards has to be the easiest airline program out there. A little known secret; after “A-List” and “A-List Preferred” class, there’s something called “Companion Status” where if you fly enough with them (100 o/w flights), your spouse / companion can fly with you, on the same flight, for FREE…for a year! I defy you to find a better rewards program.
  4. Reasonable rates.  Book at least 14 days out for deals.  Anything less, I find the rates to be comparable to other airlines (yes and sometimes a bit more).  I actually book months out and get very reasonable rates.  Frankly, it’s because of Southwest that I and quite a few others can afford to commute to work.
  5. Specials and other internet fares are awesome, with some fares during sale times for as low as $59 each way.
  6. A great website.  Southwest.com is easy to use, always up to date and includes many utilities.  Want to book with points / miles? One click changes dollars to points. Want a list of all your current, future and past flights, two clicks.  Check in online? One click. And changes are easy too; changing from one flight to another is a breeze.  Their app is awesome too.
  7. Two bags fly free, at least for now.  Sure, fees here and there are increasing, but compared to what’s out there, I still find Southwest to be very reasonable with advance purchase.
  8. Southwest planes are the prettiest in the sky.  Not just the normal corporate colors, but thematically painted planes, like the Shamoo plane which looks like a huge killer whale for Orlando flights or flags covered in the Texas flag.  This makes flying fun for kids.
  9. Great for families. Speaking of kids, families get to board a bit earlier (but not before the most loyal passengers.) My wife and I each sit with one child and sit one row in front of the other.  It’s perfect family seating.
  10. Roomy seats.  I haven’t fretted about getting the other airline seats with extra leg-room because on Southwest, they all have plenty of leg-room.
  11. Yea, I have more than ten…. Again, you gotta problem with that? … Preferred Status also gets me priority lanes at security called “Fly by.”  Sure, you get this with the other guys, but on Southwest, if you’ve not yet reached Preferred Status, you can buy “Fly By” for $10 per person, per flight.
  12. Free wifi for “A-List” passengers.  Need I say more. Free and quick connections…

Now, I know there are those of you who look down on Southwest.  That’s okay, it’s not your fault.  I was one of you so I understand. You have been told for so long that special boarding lanes with colored carpets (on top of other airport carpet) means something.  You have been trained to watch, like Pavlov’s dog, at TV screens in hopes your name appears on the upgrade list. For me, whenever it appeared, I was always far down the list and rarely got an upgrade (because I was competing for the upgrade with international flyers who had three times the miles I did.) You do get airline clubs and that’s nice (but that is because you *need* it to make up for the rest of the flight experience.)  By the way, if you fly internationally, well then this post isn’t for you, but you already knew that.

So, now that I fly mostly domestic routes and after years of being trained to appreciate/need/want other airlines “benefits” I have made a change; I joined the elite group of travelers loyal to Southwest because this airline knows their business and treats me, well, like a customer. Imagine that.

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About John T. Peters

Since I was a young boy, I've been in business for myself. Sure I've had 'jobs' along the way; some actually quite senior roles in major companies. My entreprenurial spirit however, keeps me going. Life's challenges however, happen in and out of the office. I'm constantly trying to improve as an executive, father, husband, brother, son and friend, all at the same time. I've determined that in everything you do, you're better off "outside the box." So, read on for Fresh Thinking. View all posts by John T. Peters

One response to “10 Reasons Why I Love Southwest Airlines – Hint: It’s just as much about the airports…

  • rich mclafferty

    Great post! I wrote a paper about Southwest in grad school …it was about how to create a great customer experience …and that starts with your employees. I’m now a consultant in Organization Development and still use Southwest as an example of putting their people first …and the rest all falls into place (like being the most profitable airline 35+ years running now if I remember correctly). It’s a great story…the book Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg is great read and insight into how Herb Kelleher built that culture …lots of lessons in leadership.

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