Why Southwest Is Our Favorite Domestic Airline
Why Southwest Is Our Favorite Domestic Airline
We recently had a post about how many of our flights on Southwest only cost about $11. After that post, we received general questions about how Southwest works because Southwest is not like your typical airline (they don’t do assigned seating!). Even if we pay full price for a flight, Southwest is still our preferred airline. This post provides basic information about how Southwest flights work and the features of Southwest that make it so attractive to us.
Why we love them
There are a lot of things to love about Southwest. The four things we love most are the open seating, free cancelations and changes, customer service, and free checked bags. We will go into each of these items in detail below. We also love the frequent flyer system with Southwest. If you want to see our post about the frequent flyer system and how some of our flights cost $11 out of pocket, click here.
No Assigned Seats Is The Best
When we talk to friends who have never flown on Southwest we almost always get the same response – we don’t want to fly that airline because they don’t offer assigned seating. Although this is true, we find the freedom to choose your seat upon boarding to be one of the best benefits of flying on Southwest. As long as you either buy early bird or literally check-in to your flight at the moment it becomes available, you will almost guarantee yourself the ability to choose the seat of your choice.
We love the option to choose your seat because the choice allows you to avoid a lot of the common problems with flying. Coughing person that definitely is going to give you the flu? Not sitting there. Crying baby when I need to do work? Nope, not for me. Person with headphones and minding their own business? Yep, definitely sitting by you. When Sara and I fly together, we either choose an exit row with extra leg room or we choose to seat near someone who seems like they will be a good seat mate for the trip. There is no mystery about who you are going to end up sitting by like there is with assigned seating. Now that we have gotten used to having the freedom to choose, it is hard to go back.
We prefer to choose who we sit by. Other people may prefer a window or aisle and not care as much who is next to them. Southwest is also great for this. The benefit of taking an aisle or window seat with an empty middle seat is, if the flight is not full, you may get to have an empty middle seat. For every frequent flyer, you know that when this happens, it is the best. But since there are no assigned seats, there is always the chance that your worst nightmare could take that empty seat and there is nothing you can do to stop them. The choice is up to you.
Free Cancelations and Changes
We fly about twice per month and we often make changes to our itinerary last minute as work obligations change. Because we fly almost exclusively with Southwest, changes to our plans are no big deal because Southwest offers free ticket changes (you pay the difference if your new flight is more expensive, but no change fees) and free cancelations. If you cancel your ticket, you get a flight voucher for the cost of your ticket good for a future flight on Southwest within one year.
The flexibility to make changes to your flight without having to pay a penalty is a great way to feel confident when booking a ticket. You no longer have to be concerned that flight prices might drop or that you may have to make changes to your travel plans. With Southwest, if prices go down, just change your ticket to the lower priced one and you get the difference as a credit for use on a future flight. The flexibility offered with Southwest makes travel much easier and less stressful for us.
Flight attendants, ticket agents, gate agents, and customer service members at Southwest are some of the best employees we’ve encountered anywhere. They are knowledgeable and always willing to offer assistance. If you have a problem their phone agents are able to assist and will do so happily (1-800-I-FLY-SWA, it’s easy to remember). Though we don’t often contact customer service, the few times we have had to, they’ve gone above and beyond to help us out.
When flying, we’ve had conversations with flight attendants, played trivia with flight attendants, and joked around with flight attendants. Southwest flight attendants genuinely seem to enjoy their job and it shows with the way they interact with customers on flights. It’s not uncommon to have a song or comedy routine take place during the pre-flight announcements as a way to lighten the mood onboard a flight. While our experience is that many flight attendants for other airlines do their jobs and do them well, with Southwest you get a different level of customer service that really improves the overall experience.
Free Checked Bags
Southwest allows two (2) checked bags per customer in addition to your personal item and carry-on luggage. This benefit would certainly rank higher for us if we did not primarily travel with only carry-on luggage. For those of you that prefer a checked bag, this benefit can save hundreds of dollars per flight, especially if you travel with multiple people.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with early bird – it allows you to pay a fee to automatically check-in for your flight before the 24 hour mark. The cost is typically around $20 each way and if you view this additional cost as part of the ticket price, we still find Southwest to be lower cost than most other airlines out of our home airport.
No Early Bird
For those that choose not to purchase early bird, fear not! When we don’t have early bird we always end up sitting together and in seats of our choosing. The key is to make sure you check in for your flight at exactly 24 hours prior to departure. We mean this literally…24 hours early, not 23 hours and 55 minutes. This is quite easy to do, especially if you have the Southwest App. We typically set an alarm for the check-in time, type in our confirmation number, first name, and last name into the check in tab on the app, and click check in at exactly 24 hours prior to departure.
When you check in for your flight, or if you have early bird, once you access your boarding pass, you are assigned a letter and a number. The system goes from A1 to A60, B1 to B60, etc. Southwest boards by letter group and within each letter group by numerical order. The first group to board is A, with 1 – 30 lining up together then 31 – 60 lining up together. After all of A has boarded, those passengers with A-list status who have not yet boarded will board, followed by families traveling with children. After that, the process repeats itself with the B group followed by the C group.
We view the Southwest boarding process as being quite pleasant. You stand in line based on your boarding number and upon boarding you pick any empty seat that you would like to sit in. We commonly end up with anything from the mid A’s to the mid B’s for our boarding position. These boarding positions allow us to sit together with no issues.
One thing to keep in mind is that we often take flights first thing in the morning or flights that typically do not have through passengers (a through passenger is someone who is continuing on the same plane and you are boarding at what they would consider to be their layover). This is important because if you have a large number of through passengers, let’s say 30 for this example, the person with boarding position A1 will actually be the 31st person on the plane. This might seem like a lot of detail, but unless you are flying from a Southwest Hub, you probably do not have to worry too much about this.
When you book a flight on Southwest, we recommend booking the Wanna Get Away tickets. These are the least expensive tickets and when combined with early bird, allow you to get the seat of your choice with no added stress.
While Business Select tickets come with priority boarding even ahead of those with early bird (plus an alcoholic drink voucher and bonus Rapid Reward miles), they also cost significantly more money and we don’t find them to be worth the extra cost. The final ticket option is known as Anytime and it falls between Wanna Get Away and Business Select. We didn’t discuss these because they cost more money than the Wanna Get Away tickets but offer no additional benefits.
Even beyond the ease of use, we genuinely enjoy traveling on Southwest. Once you discover how easy their boarding process is, there is really no reason not to take advantage of some of the great policies offered by Southwest and to experience some of the great customer service.
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