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In yesterday’s teleconference with financial analysts and the press, Southwest capped its 41st consecutive year of profitability by announcing record fourth-quarter and full-year profits, of $212 million and $754 million respectively.
Nice, if own Southwest stock.
But there was some good news for travelers as well.
First and foremost, company CEO Gary Kelly laid to rest the persistent rumors that Southwest would begin imposing fees for the first and second checked bags and for flight changes. Kelly said unequivocally that Southwest customers would see no such fees in 2014. “We love the word ‘free’ at Southwest,” Kelly explained.
More generally, Kelly reaffirmed Southwest’s commitment to driving down costs and maintaining its reputation as a low-fare leader. That will be harder than holding the line on a few fees.
As the legacy carriers have brought down their own costs, through bankruptcy restructurings and mergers, Southwest’s cost advantage has largely evaporated. And as Southwest has moved to increase its share of the business-travel market, its “airline of the people” image has been tarnished.
Whether Southwest can have it both ways — offering Delta-level service at Spirit-level prices — remains to be seen. For now, while Southwest can hardly claim to be fee-free, they can at least continue boasting that they have fewer fees than most other airlines.
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