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Flying the Southwest Airlines Experience

How many times have you heard folks complaining about cancellations, missed connections, poor customer service etc.? Let’s face the facts we are all accustomed to reading negative reviews about airlines. However, we don’t frequently read too many positive reviews on airlines so I wanted to reverse the norm here and share our first experiences with Southwest Airlines that have been extremely positive.

southwest plane

In 2013, I applied for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa credit card offered by Chase. The benefit at the time was a bonus 50k miles which sounded great but still in the back of my mind I had no idea what to expect given that we had never flown Southwest before. I heard a lot of mixed reviews about this airline that has just purchased AirTran to expand their flight networks but it’s one of those that you just have to experience yourself before arriving at any conclusions.

I was also able to achieve the Companion Pass status in 2013 that enabled me to purchase flights through the end of 2014 and get a free ticket each purchase for Heather. This seemed like another great deal, almost too good to be true especially given our lack of flying time with Southwest.

The Check-In Experience

The first unusual aspect of Southwest Airlines is the check-in process. 24 hours prior to your flight departure you are required to be online and check-in. This is purely a first come, first serve basis to establish a boarding number. Yes, that’s right it is a boarding number rather than a seat assignment!

What does this mean you may ask if you have never flown with Southwest? Well, Southwest Airlines have a unique system of no seat assignments and you can literally sit wherever you want on the plane as you board, so essentially the earlier you check-in the better seat choice you will have!

Our return flight from Philadelphia to Memphis via Chicago was actually cancelled and we were alerted by e-mail the night before providing contact details on how to reschedule. The customer service agent was extremely helpful and rebooked us on a direct flight via Orlando (not sure how they can claim this was direct aside from the fact we stayed on the plane in Florida).

The Airport Experience

Our first trip using Southwest Airlines almost started disastrously as we almost missed our flight from Memphis to Philadelphia (via Chicago-Midway). Departing at 7:25AM, we arrived at Memphis terminal around 6:55AM and still had to get through security and make our way to the gate. Fortunately we arrived in time, but we lost our early advantage of checking-in, as we had to make do with what seats were left available. We were lucky that this was a relatively quiet flight to Chicago so still had two seats together on the very back row of the Boeing 737-300.

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Another benefit with Southwest is the ability to take not only one but two free bags if you decide to check them in. Added to your usual hand luggage you take on to the plane and you have the potential to take quite a substantial amount of luggage if you need to.

The transition and layover at the Southwest terminal in Chicago was smooth without any issues. Boarding for the second time we were able to really take advantage of our early check-in and with position A27 and A28 we were able to get seated on the emergency exit rows, which have the extra legroom.

The Flight Experience

The most notable aspect of Southwest Airlines is their laid back approach with customer service and the way they conduct business. This is certainly not what you would associate with a major airline and may be slightly concerning to many, but honestly this works really well for them! I was very impressed with the flight attendants and how friendly they were, always talkative and appearing more relaxed than most airlines.

SW Interior

To put this into context, I feel that many airlines have their flight attendants almost following a script, not only when reading the safety guidelines but also with everything they do onboard. Southwest Airlines is the exact opposite and I appreciated that.

Drinks are offered early in the flight which is standard practice but rather than struggling with a drinks cart down the aisle, the attendants walk by asking each traveler what they would like to drink. The menu seems to be more extensive in terms of soft drinks and of course they offer alcohol beverages for a small $5 charge if you are interested (plus if you fly on certain holidays such as New Year’s Day and Valentines Day, they give you a free alcoholic beverage!)

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Overall Experience

Southwest Airlines have a major competitive advantage over their rival domestic airlines with so many aspects including their free baggage, no seat assignment and extremely friendly customer service. I hope we will continue to have such positive experiences with Southwest as we hope to be flying with them frequently over the next 12 months with our Companion Pass status.

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With the acquisition of AirTran, Southwest are heading international. AirTran’s routes include destinations such as Aruba, Cancun and the Dominican Republic. Whenever Southwest have transitioned over all of these routes, they will be a very powerful airline throughout the USA that I feel many folks will be hard pressed to ignore!

What are your experiences with Southwest Airlines?

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Why These Economy Airlines Need to Be on Your Radar?

Monday 30th of May 2016

[…] love everything about Southwest Airlines and their customer service is second to none, at least from our experiences. They are readily […]

Shannon Ullman

Saturday 15th of August 2015

Hey guys! Nice article! I love flying Southwest! I have their rapid rewards credit card too but don't use it that much. I've been interested in finding ways to use travel hacks to get points on the card more easily and use them for flights. However, the fine print confuses me. I am still not sure if I actually receive points on my card for buying any old thing. So, I was wondering if you know anything about this. Can you receive points towards flights by using the credit card to pay bills (cell phone, electricity, etc.) and do you gain points for using the card to buy things at any old store? What is your experience?

Thanks so much -Shannon

Chris

Monday 17th of August 2015

We use our Southwest card for pretty much everything! From grocery shopping to paying bills (where feasible!) you earn points...you should also check out the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal because you can earn a number of points that way if you shop online. E.g. there are always promotions going on at like Sears.com where it is 12pts per dollar spent etc. I have nothing but good things to say about the credit card. We 'may' be moving away from this but it is purely because Southwest's routes out of Memphis or Little Rock (our closest airports) are not that great. It is nothing at all against Southwest or Chase but we may be trying out an alternative.

Sam @ Travelling King

Monday 3rd of March 2014

Great article Chris. Im always a fan of a review! I Kind of like the idea of the boarding number rather than seat number, althought Mythbusters did "bust" this, having allocated seats are far better so boarding a plan quickly.

Jonny Jenkins

Saturday 22nd of February 2014

From what I understand Southwest was the major force in completely revolutionizing the airline industry (in North America at least)... I can't say I've studied them a ton, but apparently Westjet in Canada is based off of their model, it's the small things that count, for instance:

They only fly 737's... this may seem like a minor point, but it's huge! It means that all of the captains can fly all of their planes (pretty sure they got this from Southwest). This means that their training costs go way down and if one pilot calls in sick, it's easy to get a fill in. Just look up Air Canada's 'sick out' too see the potential implications otherwise.

Employees rewards include shares in the company. The way it works with Westjet is that every paycheck an employee can buy a certain amount of shares and the company will match it. What's the implication? Well... the implication is that all the employees feel like owners.

Companion passes and family passes are amazing...

Southwest took an industry that was based upon 'the rich can fly' and tried to bring it down to a level where everyone could fly. As a result, they have been implicated (perhaps indirectly) as driving a lot of the mergers in the states, and even some of the bankruptcies. There are VERY few airlines in the states that still run at a profit, and perhaps none are as well managed as Southwest...

A major theme, 'treat the customer like gold' ... seems like you got that experience first hand, great to hear : )

I realize this sounds like a plug, I've never worked for Westjet or Southwest, but have studied them extensively in business courses, wondering about the manner in which industries evolve, and what are the major forces behind it... Southwest came out as incredibly innovative and a jet-setter... so to speak

Josh

Monday 17th of February 2014

Great overall post on Southwest. We had just received their points credit card and pan on using them to get around the states at the start of our RTW trip. Great overview and pictures.

Chris

Tuesday 18th of February 2014

Thanks Josh! We have really enjoyed our experience with Southwest so far. Another positive appeared last night after a negative experience last weekend on our trip to Vegas. I decided on the flight back from Phoenix to Little Rock to purchase the in-flight wifi which was available for $8. To my dismay, the connection was awful, even worse that the old-school dial-up connection that many of us may remember. Anyway, I e-mailed customer service alerting them to this issue and they immediately refunded my $8 apologizing and letting me know that they are constantly working on improving their in-flight experience. I couldn't ask for anymore from their customer service and was impressed by this service!