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Southwest Airlines—

Southwest's Fares, Customer Service, and Check In Process Reviewed

Southwest Airlines—the king of North American budget airlines—nearly always tops customer satisfaction polls.

Doc V loves Southwest and its usually friendly and enthusiastic employees.

Who can dislike an airline where employees, if they get an urge, sing spontaneous songs of gratitude to their passengers, as happened on a Doc V flight? Or, where smaller flight attendants have been known to hide in overhead luggage bins to bring laughter to boarding passengers?

Or, where the former chair and CEO, when at times he thought passengesr had grossly unfairly complained against his employees, sent complainers a polite suggestion of an alternative airline for future travel?

No wonder other airlines have had so much trouble competing against Southwest, even when their fares are the same.


Battle for LAX

When United Airlines was set to start its low cost "Shuttle by United" service out of Los Angeles and other cities, Southwest faced its greatest threat since its inception. At that time, United was so much better funded for a long-term price war and promotional battle.

No prolem, however.

On the day United launched its new service, Southwest Los Angeles terminal employees arrived at work ready to wage "war."

They donned combat uniforms and helmets, put up camouflage, rolled a tank into the check in area, and continued giving their top quality service.

Enormous good humoured publicity was generated in a business battle that was already attracting wide attention.

Southwest actually grew its business in Los Angeles in the face of stiff competition.


Recipe for profit

Bottom line?

Low fares, great customer service, and employees who care about their company create profit.

In a cutthroat industry where most of its competitors have gone out of business or filed for court protection, Southwest has made a profit every year since 1973, including the difficult latter part of 2001, after 9/11.

The financial performance gives confidence that your trip will go smoothly.


Expect few frills

Doc V highly recommends Southwest, with the caveat that it gives a "few frills" travel experience.

  • No rerouting on other airlines if your flight is cancelled or connection missed. Luckily Southwest has a very large fleet if it needs substitute an aircraft.
  • No free standby if the fare on the alternative flight is higher (but see below), and
  • No extra seat free if you take up two seats. In fairness to other passengers you'll pay for both. (Remind Doc V to be diligent with his diet.)
  • No full meals.
  • No wide body jets on longer flights for more comfort.

The Southwest advantages!

  • No cancellation penalties ever. As long as you cancel your booking before departure and save your booking number you can use the airfare you paid toward another ticket. Check current deadline for doing so.

    Note though that the new itinerary could have a higher fare especially if not booked much in advance.
  • Southwest accepts your first two checked bags for free, as long as they meet its size and weight requirements. This is in marked contrast to most other airlines.
  • Southwest has a very good selection of free entertainment available, including live television..

Southwest's unique check in process

You can check in online as early as 24 hours prior to departure. Do this! Check in online even if you don't have access to a printer.

Those who check in first win a spot in the coveted "A" group, for example "A-18." The Bs follow. If you wait to check in at an airport counter or kiosk at the last minute, you will likely end up in the dreaded "C" group, if your flight is reasonably full, as most Southwest flights are.

You can pay a nominal fee to have Southwest check you in automatically 24 hours prior.

When ready to board, gate agents will first ask the "A" group to stand in the order of their number-- A1, A2, A3, etc. Then they board the "B" and "C" groups using the same system.

As you can see, the "A's" have the best choice of window or aisle seats or sitting with their friends or family. The "C's" may end up in middle seats.

Doc V very much likes this system. It's based on how important it is for you to check in early. It's quick and easy.

Currently, the sole exceptions are the physically challenged who board early and those who paid the highest business fare who are assigned one of the first few numbers in the "A" group, when available.


The fares

With the exception of the DING fares discussed below, Southwest's best fares usually come to early bookers, but you don't need to stay over a Saturday night or buy a return ticket for the lowest fares.

Check the Southwest website for a constantly changing array of Saturday only fares, $99 transcontinental flights, bring along a friend free, and other specials.

To save money, Southwest does not have "live" listings in international airline reservation computers. You best contact it online at its website.


DING fares

Be sure to sign up online for Southwest's DING service, which pops up on your screen with Internet specials throughout the week.

You tell DING what airports interest you and it works on that.

If travelling to a place like Los Angeles, choose all the local airports—LAX, BUR (Burbank), ONT (Ontario), and SNA (John Wayne, Orange County) that would be convenient for you..

Enjoy!

 

Please note that neither Doc V nor his company received or will receive any compensation from Southwest Airlines for this review.

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