Southwest Airlines (whose IATA code is “WN”) is one of the original “disruptors” in the airline industry. When it commenced operations in 1971, founder Herb Kelleher brought affordable air travel to a burgeoning middle class in the United States; flying was no longer reserved for the one-percent. It was a refreshing addition in to the market, but Southwest Airlines has since grown into an outlier. Its barebones passenger experience doesn’t match those on legacy carriers, but it is, price-wise, definitely not an LCC. Some might argue that its fares are overpriced, whereas others would simultaneously claim that Southwest is the best deal in the sky. Whether or not it’s a good value depends on who you ask, and such ambiguity makes the airline all the more intriguing and worthy of a closer look.
Southwest Airlines is many things, but it’s neither bad nor glamorous. The whole operation is egalitarian to its core, and it’s well-positioned to cater to the everymen and women it markets itself to. When you buy a ticket, you get just that: a decently comfortable seat, two checked bags, and friendly, old fashioned service all under the banner of folksy branding. If your plans change, no worries! There’s no fine print, no pesky fees, and no limits to flexibility (you’ll just be on the hook for any difference in fare).
Seating assignments are famously non-existent (Southwest relies on a first come, first serve model at boarding), and Southwest’s fleet of 737s are outfitted like low cost carriers’ planes are. Cabins are in all-economy configurations, seat pitch is pretty tight but not obscenely so, and there’s no built in in flight entertainment.
The service you receive is charming but minimal. You’ll get a soft drink and a snack bag and a smile and that’s it. Aside from a small selection of wines, beers, and spirits, there aren’t really any buy-on-board options either.
Don’t let the, uh, “minimalism” fool you. Southwest’s fares aren’t actually priced all that cheaply. Indeed, the non-existent change fees and generous baggage allowances aren’t “free” as its advertisements frequently boast, but instead they’re built in to the cost of the fare. When you compare Southwest to its competitors, both of the legacy and low cost varieties, it’s not uncommon to see it as one of the most expensive options on a route. My one way ticket from Baltimore Washington International to Boston Logan came out to $298. There are a few caveats though; breaking that figure down, I paid…
- $194 initially for a “Wanna Get Away?” fare.
- $15 for early bird check in privileges.
- $71 extra to upgrade to “Business Select.”
For a flight that’s less than an hour long, even the “Wanna Get Away?” is a lot of money! When you consider that you can fly first class on the same itinerary, Southwest’s value proposition is puzzling at best. Why then do so many travelers love it so much? This mini-Trip Report seeks to explore what makes the airline so special and why it’s so venerated. Moreover, it wants to answer the most important higher flyer question: is Southwest Airlines a good deal?
- How To: Book a flight on Southwest Airlines
- Southwest Airlines Review, Boeing 737 MAX 8 (!), BWI-BOS
…And also some complementary commentary on Southwest’s puzzling value proposition. You might have also noticed that the flight I was on was operated by a much maligned 737 MAX 8. With Boeing having successfully recertified the plane in November, now is a good opportunity to write about whether or not it’ll be safe as it returns to the skies (in the form of a “Daily Flyer” entry):
- The shortcomings of Southwest Airlines
- The Daily Flyer: Is the Boeing 737 MAX safe to fly?
I hope these offer valuable information and insight to you, and, as always, thank you for reading and supporting The Higher Flyer!
Note: this itinerary was booked AND traveled in advance of the 2020-21 COVID-19 shutdown. As hard and as tempting as it may be, please refrain from unnecessary travel; we’ll #FlyHigher again soon enough!