Southwest Airlines Has No Plans For No-Frills Basic Economy

Image courtesy of David Transier

Not that long ago, Southwest Airlines was considered a relatively no-frills airline, at least when compared to the other major carriers. Then all the competition started charging for checked bags, while Southwest says it’s given “no thought whatsoever” to the idea. The new trend among the big airlines is to offer “Basic Economy” fares that won’t even let you use the overhead storage bin, but Southwest says it won’t go this route either.

USA Today reports that Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told investors on Thursday that the airline won’t follow in rivals’ footsteps in the offering, as it would just cause confusion.

“There is a huge value in offering all of our customers – 100% of them – a great product,” Kelly said. “We like to say at Southwest, there is no second class.”

Currently, Southwest doesn’t section off parts of its plane for different fare classes like other airlines. Instead, customers can choose from different fare rates to board sooner, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll get more leg room or better access to overhead bins.

Under most Basic Economy fares, airlines — like American and United — offer passengers a less expensive ticket, that doesn’t come with an assigned seat or overhead bin space.

Such an offering at Southwest would likely cause confusion for customers.

“Any time we contemplate offering customers a choice, we debate that heavily because complexity drives confusion and it clouds the brand,” Kelly said, noting that the company’s policies of no checked bag fees and no change fees are what the company is known for.

In order to offer Basic Economy, the airline would have to take one of those popular amenities away.

“That complicates the message,” Kelly said. “I think that would be a huge mistake.”

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