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Southwest: ‘No Bag Fees in 2014’

Southwest: ‘No Bag Fees in 2014’

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.

Reader Reality Check

Has your perception of Southwest changed over the past few years?

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  • Art

    “…Delta-level service at Spirit-level prices…” REALLY?

    Until and unless WN starts offering pre-reserved seats, at least a few E+ rows, the onboard experience is no different than Spirit. Moreover, WN fares are often the same or higher than Delta. most other full service carriers, has the worst on-time performance for 4 months running, Finally, anyone with decent credit can get a credit card with the airlines they intend to fly, eliminating baggage fees.

    As long as Gary Kelly keeps the WN faithful at the Koolaid trough, shareholders will continue to benefit at the customer’s expense.

  • John Hill

    “…Delta-level service at Spirit-level prices…” REALLY? – I have to second Art’s emotion!

    Now, I disagree that the onboard experience is no different that Spirit and certainly the way WN handles their pricing is very different.
    That said, no company has 41 profitable years without doing A LOT right. It is obvious that many people are interested in an airline that offers pricing and services in between the legacy and low-cost carriers. For my personal and business flying, WN offers the right mix of services and value to keep my business, now and for the forseeable future.

  • TomF

    Southwest’s cost advantage over the other majors has evaporated not because the others have cut costs and lowered fares, but because Southwest fares have crept up. When I cross-shop Southwest now it’s rarely the cheapest option and sometimes far pricier than Delta or US Airways.

    The WN “onboard experience” is decidedly different from Spirit — sorry, Art — and better than United, but the “peanut fares” perception is obsolete.

  • mre5765

    Let’s compare the UA (no different than the DL experience) and WN experience.

    E+. WN has 33 inch pitch throughout. E+ is 34 inch pitch. Not a meaningful difference. Yes with the introduction of slim line seats, this pitch will fall. But it will inevitably fall on UA E+ too.

    Preassigned seating. My primary objective when seated in coach is to get an aisle or window. I find if I check in early, my number in the B group is low enough that that is not a problem. Become an elite on WN, and you get A group for free.

    And for families, WN is superior to UA. A family boards after the A group but before the B group. Families thus can sit together every flight. On UA, irrops causes families to be scattered creating unnecessary drama.

  • Art

    As an AA EXP PLT, approaching 2 million miles lifetime (will pass this year), I would prefer to compare their E+, in the same 737-800: 35.0 – 37.0 pitch, 17.2 wide. I am 6’2″, can assure you that the extra 2″ – 4″ makes a BIG difference – if I keep my legs straight, my knees hit the seat with 33″ pitch, difficult to spread them far enough when WN oversells flights – very common on my regular SAN-SJC experience, A list does not guarantee A boarding group. The only good news is that the flight is just over one hour – much longer and I would switch to AA SAN-LAX-SJC.

    Who said anything about families? How often do irrops occur? I typically burn my RR points SAN-LAS, not unusual for one family member to board a WN flight in the A group, attempts to save 2 – 3 full rows in the front of the plane – talk about unnecessary drama.
    From my experience, AA gate agents go out of their way to ASSIGN families seats together, often offering single travelers exit row, E+ seats or even first class at no charge to make room for them.

    Hey – if you are happy flying WN – great! I have NO CHOICE, as their predatory behavior in 2007 – 08 created monopolies within California. Fares are now excessive, service has been reduced, resulting in oversold flights, afternoon / evening flights are now almost ALWAYS delayed. When finishing business early, try to catch an earlier flight, it is necessary to pay FULL FARE for a NEW ticket, AA would allow me to standby for FREE.
    I can’t wait for someone like AS or VX to see the opportunity, offer WN some much needed competition, will be one of the first to make the change.

  • Deon Charles

    Unfortunately, they only have a “reputation” as the low fare leader. I regularly find cheaper fares and shorter total travel time on other carriers. Maybe if you adjust for baggage fees the total fare is lower, and certainly their ticket refund policies are much better. But if I’m certain to travel on my specified date/time, I rarely end up selecting Southwest.

  • mre5765

    I would love to fly 37 inch mce. Alas, more, often than not, the majors have regional jets. When I have a choice, even at 6’1″, 33 inch pitch beats 34 inch RJ pitch.

  • Guest

    I kind of laugh when people talk about the “low” fares on Southwest.

    be very upfront to say that I have never flown Southwest. Not because
    I’m one of those that refuse to. I admit I like my assigned seats, and
    my elite UA status/benefits. But not enough to ignore the competition
    when they present the right value proposition.

    Southwest, some
    of the time, doesn’t even fly to the origin or destination areas that I
    go to. But beyond that, when they do, I have rarely seen fares for less
    then the competition. And on the few occasions they have been, its been
    something so minimal, like $5 to $10. That might be enough to pull some
    customers to them. But it’s not enough to get me to give up my benefits
    when it would mean a trek to MDW from the North Chicago suburb I used to
    live in, for example.

    I also certainly can’t speak to the family
    situation (on any carrier), but I certainly can speak to irrops. What I
    do know is UA has never refused, in the close to 10 years I’ve been
    flying them regularly, to put me on another carrier, either within the
    alliance or OAL, when they didn’t have a convenient alternative
    themselves. This is whether a delay/cancellation was within their
    control or not. Again, I don’t have direct experience with WN, but
    without the interline agreements that the legacy carriers have, I can
    not imagine it being easy to get alternatives, especially during big
    irrops like the storms we had in January.

  • Edgar Numrich

    “Has your perception of Southwest changed over the years . . . ?”

    So far, the longest response comes from someone who admits never to have flown on Southwest.

    Wonder what his take is on the neighbor’s wife?