Flying the Southwest Airlines Experience

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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.

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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?

28 COMMENTS

  1. Always interesting to see an airline trying different ways of seat allocations etc etc, anything to make it fair (and avoid an easyjet scrum!!)

    I like the waitress drinks service, was the only thing I liked about virgin upper… And means aisles aren’t blocked!!

  2. I have been a convert to Southwest since they changed their boarding process. It used to be you had to stand in line a long time to get a good boarding position, but with the new process that is not necessary.
    My problem is that with Hartford, CT, as my home airport, the best option for which airline to use depends on the destination. I use Southwest as much as possible now but not exclusively.
    Most of my air travel is for business, so the company has a say in which airline I use also.

  3. Love to see your positivity with Southwest. It is ironic that I am working on a negative review on United. Is it ok if I link your article to my post? I would like to share a positive experience to weigh out the negative 🙂

    • Of course that’s perfectly fine to link our article! Just let us know when you publish so that we can give you some extra exposure over our social media networks.

      Cheers for the feedback by the way!!

  4. It is lovely to read your positive experience with Southwest Airlines, Chris. I am old enough to remember when flying on any airline was part and parcel of the holiday experience. Hostesses and stewards were normally friendly and efficient, and natural – in other words, unscripted. I am based in Europe, which means that if I want to travel economically, I will often end up using Ryanair. This is an experience in itself, but this year they are sending out a variety of strong messages that they are changing, apparently for the better 🙂 – so let’s see if this is true or not!

  5. I’m a fan of Southwest, so I was very happy when they announced their (albeit limited) service from Memphis. I need to check out that Visa Rewards card. I keep getting offers for it. It looks like a great deal.

    • Very good deal Lance but wait until they offer the 50k points (2 free flights they advertise it as, but in reality you can do more than 2 with 50k pts). We have had great experiences in recent weeks flying to Philly and Las Vegas last weekend so I am happy with the decision so far to pursue that Companion Pass.

  6. It is nice to read a positive review about an airline, in Europe we have so many problems with the flight companies! It was nice to read all these small details that made your flight a nicer experinece.

  7. Interesting. I’ve flown a lot in the past 6 months with 5 different airlines so I have many experiences, good and bad, fresh in my mind. I’ve never flown Southwest before but everything you described definitely gives it a competitive advantage. I like the idea of a boarding number eliminating stress at the airport.

    • There are a lot of positive and negatives about airlines and many of these are related to stress prior to even arriving at the airport or boarding the plane. Southwest makes this process easy. The free baggage means that even if you don’t print your boarding passes at home, you can go straight to the airport, print your boarding pass and drop your bags off without having to worry about making a transaction to pay for them.

  8. Great review! I have never flown Southwest but heard great things about it, especially with the two free checked bags, that is a gold mine in flying these days! I think it’s usually ranked fairly high in terms of airlines in the US, I wish they flew more internationally or else I’d take them every time!

    • Those free bags are huge!! Not one but two…I mean that is a serious saving especially if you are a family taking large amounts of luggage. Just imagine how much money those folks are saving when with most airlines they are likely forking out at least $25 per bag.

  9. I haven’t flown with Southwest but it sounds interesting, and laid back, which I like. Flight cancellations can’t always be avoided so I think they way they are handled is the most important – not like that time my flight with Qantas was cancelled and they straight lied to the faces of passengers about the reason – despite the real reason being the talk of the airport.

    Interesting you can sit wherever you like – that’s gotta make more work of identifying victims in a crash… surely? 😀

    • Interesting point you make Anastasia as a possible negative on the seating layout. Hopefully this will never be an issue that folks have to think about and yes, you are right that it would potentially cause more issues but I would much rather look at the positives on this 🙂

    • You can’t miss them, that’s one good thing about trying to capture good pictures because you always know from a distance when a Southwest plane is approaching.

      I believe AirTran is still flying to Cancun but by the end of this calendar year, Southwest hopes to have all international destinations from AirTran converted over. They are already starting in July with Aruba, Nassau and Montego Bay so I don’t figure it will be too much longer until Mexican destinations are converted over to the blue and orange colors!

  10. I haven never flown with southwest airlines but it sounds like a pleasant overall travel experience if you fly with them. It’s good to hear some positive reviews about an airline since most are trying to increase profit and cut costs which affects the overall service the customer receives.

    I have to admit though, the airlines in Asia are absolutely top-notch! I especially love Thai Airways, Eva Air, and Singapore Airlines! I once got bumped up to first class on Singapore Airlines when my flight from Taipei to LA was cancelled twice (I was notified by phone) because of a typhoon and I also got US$200 cash.

  11. Glad to read a positive review on Southwest, or on just any airlines. Like you said we don’t read the positive ones too frequently. That Companion Pass status seems like an awesome deal – did you have to pay anything, like tax, or it was totally free of charge? No seat assignment reminds me of EasyJet and other low cost European carriers, but boarding number is pretty unique and neat. And the two free bags policy – this is really great! Love your last photo 🙂

  12. 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.

    • 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!

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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

    • 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.

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