Southwest Could Become World's Biggest Airline

According to the Associated Press, Southwest Airlines is poised to become the world’s biggest airline—beating American Airlines for the first time. Even though Southwest is a domestic-only carrier, they’ve already eclipsed American Airlines’ combined domestic and international travel in 2007.

Southwest carried 40.3 million passengers on domestic routes between January and May, an increase of 4.2 percent from last year.

“We’re thrilled to watch our customer base grow,” said Brandy King, a Southwest spokewoman, who attributed the growth to the company’s tradition of friendly customer service. “With so many airlines offering low fares, I think customer service makes all the difference in the world.”

Consumerist’s tipline receives more complimentary stories about Southwest than any other airline. Some recent quotes from Southwest’s customers:

Dan, who got stuck on the tarmac for 3 hours while the plane was de-iced says:

Today I had a nice surprise when I brought in the mail. Every one of us, my wife, daughter, son, our niece and myself recieved a letter from Frederick T. Taylor, Senior Manager of Proactive Customer Service Communications (can you believe such a department exists!) apologizing for the delay, and telling us they will examine their planning and execution ((or lack thereof) his own words) at Midway to avoid similar ordeals in the future. Also enclosed with the letter were roundtrip passes to anywhere Southwest flies, valid for one year.
We didn’t complain about the delay and I wonder if anyone else did. This was totally unexpected and has made me a loyal Southwest customer and I want to share it with everyone.

And Jeff who also got stuck on a runway, waiting for a storm to pass:

Well, I was completely surprised to find the attached letter in the mail a few days ago. Southwest made the effort to pro-actively appologise for the inconvenience, and even sent a $75 voucher. I know this action would not have pleased everyone on that flight, but if all airlines even took this modest measure, I believe the Consumerist would have a lot fewer stories to cover regarding runway passenger hostage situations.

Alma also got $75:

Southwest Airlines just sent me, my husband and my toddler each $75 travel vouchers as an apology for a flight delay we didn’t even complain about!

We do get Southwest airlines complaint letters, but not many. Southwest seems to be able to handle their business without our help.

Other airlines, take note.

Southwest on pace to top American this year [Houston Chronicle]
(Photo:Bright Star)

Comments

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  1. MalcoveMagnesia says:

    More power to Southwest Airlines. They’re good for low airfares and cattle call seat assignments, but if you want to get across country be prepared for multiple connections and no extra perks for being a loyal frequent flyer.

    I stick with “legacy” carriers (as freakishly bad as they can be) because their fares can be close to SWA’s, yet I can usually get most places domestically with a maximum of one connection (spoke to hub to spoke). Their frequent flyer programs offer better perks, both for truly frequent (“elite”) flyers and for people who want to earn points or redeem awards on International or partner airlines beyond the one you earned the points on.

  2. iMike says:

    FF programs have been so watered down, both in terms of award availability and differentiated service for elites, that it hardly matters to me any more whether I fly a “legacy” carrier on which I have status, or Southwest.

    I’ve had a better experience on WN this summer than on DL, AA or NW, measured by on time performance and availability of alternate routings or other accommodation in the case of irregular ops.

    FWIW, I’m Platinum on DL, Gold on NW and dirt on AA.

  3. gibsonic says:

    i would fly southwest a lot more if they would get more cities east of the MS river. Specifically Memphis.

  4. hustler says:

    I like SW. Its also nice to see from the letters sent that SW may possibly treat its cusomers like adults.

  5. beavis88 says:

    I would fly SW again, ever, if they’d just assign their goddamn seats. Few things irritate me more than a bunch of rude assholes jostling like children, sitting on the floor in the middle of the departure lounge, running down the jetways, etc.

    If anyone from SW happens to be reading: I’d pay an extra $50/flight to get an assigned seat. No joke. In fact, I generally do pay that $50 anyway, to fly with your competition.

  6. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    Long comment alert:

    We were once flying back to our hometown one night on Frontier, with the plan of leaving on Southwest the next morning on another trip. We got stuck overnight in Denver due to some (in our opinion) questionable decisions by our original airline. They rebooked us on another flight the next morning, but the earliest they could get us back would cause us to miss our Southwest flight. Frontier did absoultely nothing to help us, spending most of their time insulting Southwest and blaming us for booking our next day’s flight with them.

    We tried to rebook our Southwest flight, but we were using free tickets. They only have a limited amount of free seats on each flight, so we couldn’t rebook the ticket ourselves. It is past midnight at this point, so there were no SW employees at their ticket desk. We found a lone Southwest employee in the baggage claim area, and we explained our story to her. She tried to call and get our ticket changed herself, but she couldn’t do it either. She then called a supervisor in our hometown and woke him up. They spent about an hour on the phone calling around trying to get our (free) tickets changed to the later flight that day. Eventually they succeeded, and we were able to make our trip the next day.

    A baggage employee and a supervisor woken up in the middle of the night spent their time rebooking our two tickets that we had spent a grand total of $10 in airport fees on, helping fix a mistake by another airline when they had no obligation to do so. These two employees went so above and beyond anything I could imagine from any other airline, that we basically resolved to never fly any other airline again.

  7. cnc1019 says:

    I personally love Southwest but many people forget one of the reasons they have done so well is because they typically fly to smaller airports (specifically, those airports that have smaller fees to the airlines such as Love Field in Dallas instead of DFW International). This isn’t a knock on the airline, just a reminder that there are other reasons they company is doing well than just customer service (not that CS hurts though).

  8. Major-General says:

    @gibsonic: Good luck.

    @beavis88: Funny, my last few legacy carrier flights had the same behavior occur just to get to the assigned seats.

  9. iMike says:

    @cnc1019: The biggest key to WN profitability is that they get more flights per aircraft because they turn them in 20-30 mins as opposed to an hour. Both the point to point (non hub) model and the lack of assigned seating help them here.

  10. dmolavi says:

    We flew on SWA this past week for our family vacation w/ our 22 month old daughter. (She was very well behaved, btw :) )…They had crayons and coloring books for her, little SWA “wings”, and the flight attendants loved talking and playing with her when they got the chance. Our flight out of Philly was on-time and our return flight got in 20 minutes early.
    They’ve just earned 6 new lifetime customers (including my daughter who already has a frequent flier account with them).

  11. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    @cnc1019:

    Getting to avoid typically oh-so-fun airports like O’Hare and DFW are definitely part of the appeal of Southwest.

  12. homerjay says:

    I’ve only flown SW once and it was very ‘ordinary,’ which is to be expected so my experience was neither glowing or shameful. However, I DO watch Airline on A&E now and then and it makes me not want to fly SW. Not sure why it makes me feel like that since most of the assholes that make it on that show are the passengers… but it just does.

  13. Caswell says:

    @beavis88:

    Amen. The worst part is being at the front of the “A” group and watching as half the plane boards in front of you because the “require special assitance”. Suddenly every kid on the flight becomes under five years old.

    The one time in my life I’ve actually yelled at someone on a plane was when they boarded with the “special assistance” group and proceeded to plop down in the exit row.

    I avoid that airline like the plague simply because of the cattle cars.

  14. gibsonic says:

    are there assigned seats on a city bus? no.

    air travel has been reduced to a city bus in the sky.

    but when you have to mass produce a product and price is the key variable, followed closely by customer service, it really isn’t that much of a surprise that southwest has done so well.

  15. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    @Caswell:

    I saw the flight attendants threaten to call the police on a pre-boarder who tried to take the exit row and wouldn’t move. He was huge and freely admitted the only reason he pre-boarded was to get the extra legroom of the exit row. He eventually moved once they had the phone in hand to call airport security.

  16. Kurtz says:

    @iMike: Southwest does use hubs – DAL and HOU are the obvious examples.

  17. Caswell says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!:

    I wish we had the same situation. The reason we got there early was because I’m tall and without the legroom in the exit row my knees hit the back of the seat in front of me when the seat comes back after takeoff (and it always does).

    I can see the appeal if you’ve got kids and get to board first on a cheaper flight, but going in and out of Orlando more often than not I simply won’t deal with it. Do you know how many four foot tall “four year olds” I’ve seen that “require special assistance” to board a plane? Amazing they all gravitate towards SouthWest…

  18. beavis88 says:

    @major-general: You’ve got a point there. Just returned from a trip on which my seat was also assigned to someone else (on both legs). Dumb luck that I got there first, really.

  19. cindel says:

    Get rid of the “person of size” policy and start assigning seats and you’ll have a customer until then, I’m sticking with Jetblue.

  20. huadpe says:

    I fly Southwest because they use smaller airports often. Specifically they use ISP as their New York hub, which is 20 min from my house, and easy to get a ride to or park at. My other choices are United at ISP (at 3x the price), or LaGuardia or JFK, both of which are awful, insane, and between driving and security, require 2 more hours to get to/through.

  21. asten77 says:

    @CINDEL – i happen to appreciate the ‘person of size’ policy. I’ve personally had a terrible experience with half of my seat taken by someone in the seat next to me. If you’re using more than one seat, you should pay for more than one seat.

  22. bilge says:

    @beavis88: Same here. I want a window seat that’s not over the wing and will pay extra to guarantee that I get one.

  23. anams0184 says:

    @ KURTZ

    -they fly out of houston hobby which is as big as dallas love and they only recently fly out of DFW bc of the “right to fly” act that was passed in Dallas. still though, only a few flights depart out of DFW and you are less likely to arrive there. i’m from dallas but now live in houston and fly home 2x a month and always use SW because their prices are cheapest for a 30min flight. i’ve had flights delayed but if you’re patient with them, they will recomp. you in just about every way that they possibly can. from flight vouchers to free alcohol on the flight…i’ve even received both on 1 flight before.

  24. getjustin says:

    My favorite thing about SW is the fact that after you make your reservation, you can change it all you want without a fee. You only have to make up the difference if the ticket costs more. And if it’s less, you keep the difference to use on a future flight. This is one of those little things that makes them a far superior airline.

    Also, as badly as I hate the open seating, it makes it easier to load the plane and get the hell outta Dodge. I find I’m early more often than not with SWA, a feat that simply cannot be said for many other carriers.

  25. theblackdog says:

    I do like flying Southwest, and this doesn’t surprise me because Southwest was one of the few airlines that stayed in the black, even after 9/11.

  26. majortom1981 says:

    HUADPE I also live in long island and take southwest for the sole reason that they take off out of ISLIP. JFK and Laguardia are horrible airports. also would be more expensive to take off from.

    I dont mind the open seating. I bring my laptop with me and a pair of headphones and I completely forget about who is sitting around me.