Additionally, planes don’t have a first-class cabins, which turns off travelers whose companies fork out for front-section seats. Flight attendants crack jokes during announcements, which was described by some humor-impaired folks in online forums as “unprofessional” and “cheesy.”
Southwest also has nonstop routes nobody else has. Which is great for people looking for nonstops from Baltimore to Albuquerque, on a plane that continues on to Santa Ana. Not so much for folks who want to fly from DC to LA and not have to stop in New Mexico.
Southwest also doesn’t show up in travel search engines, a turnoff to many who don’t like to multi-stop shop when looking for flights.
“We’re not on (search engines) because side-by-side, we don’t look like the cheapest,” explains Hawkins. “But there’s a lot that comes with our flights. Free bags make boarding so much easier because you don’t spend time looking bin space. Makes everyone happier, incrementally increasing experience of positivity.”
While quantifying an “experience of positivity” is tough to do, breaking down a Southwest flight versus a legacy carrier with fees is easy.
Looking at a weekend flight from Seattle to LA in April, most legacy carriers had nonstop flights around $280. Even with two checked bags that would be $330. Southwest was mostly over $400, with stops.
On that same weekend, nonstops on legacy carriers from New York to Atlanta were around $290. Southwest was $270 -- cheaper overall.
But in the cult of Southwest, people don't care to shop around
“I don’t really even compare prices with them anymore,” says Tow, the Dallas attorney who racked up her Southwest elite status going to daily depositions in Houston. “They’re usually comparable, you know what you’re getting. No fees past what you see.”
“People don’t expect much of Southwest,” says Patrick Smith, a longtime commercial pilot and author of Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel. “And of what they DO expect, they receive it reliably and consistently. Southwest is nothing if not unpretentious. They’ve mastered the art of get-what-you-pay-for satisfaction.”
Though Southwest was once THE low-fare airline, that’s not always the case anymore. But it still maintains a loyal following, drawing people willing to pay more for what the airline offers. In creating an environment in which rules can be skirted for customer happiness, and personality is prioritized over protocol, Southwest has created customer loyalty in a way no other airline has. Free bags are just the start. It’s a matter of creating a feel from the top down that flying should be fun. And for those few hours you spend in that big purple plane, it tends to be.