When I was younger, I used to think flying all over the world for a living was just about the best job you could ever want; chances are that it was back then. But I’ll never know. By the time it became my reality, everything had changed. The night flight to Paris, Chateaubriand on the good china? More like St. Louis on an aging MD-80 with a pack of peanuts. No offense to St. Louis.
Bad airlines began to merge with other bad airlines, creating bigger, even less likable airlines, every loyalty program I tried ended up so diluted as to be nearly worthless. After more than ten years on the job as a travel writer, I was focusing mostly on North America, which I greatly enjoyed; I was also ready to never get on a plane again. Then I tried Southwest.
By now, almost another ten years have flown by. I still fly for a living, more than I ever did before, mostly in North America. I’m perfectly fine with all of it, and it’s all because I stopped flying—wherever possible—any other airline besides Southwest.
It started with one trip, which went so well, I felt like that couldn’t possibly be the norm. Then I booked again, and again, and now here we are.
What Makes Southwest Airlines so Much Better?
1. Southwest will never steal your money
See a fare you like? Book it, even if you’re not sure you can make the trip—you can always change or cancel later, for no charge. These days, we’re used to throwing away tickets we don’t use because the fees to cancel or change are sometimes higher than the beginning value, and that’s if they even give you the option to play around with the booking. Not at Southwest, where every cent goes toward future travel, and when you’re in my line of work, there’s always a future flight…or three.
2. Checked bags fly free
Well, the first two, anyway. Plus whatever you bring on board. If you’re like me, this means you could move across the country without paying a cent beyond airfare.
3. You can get the best seats for only a few bucks extra
The other day, on an airline I won’t mention, they wanted nearly $50 on top of my fare, just to sit near the front of the plane. For a much, much lower fee, Southwest’s EarlyBird Check-In lets you get at the good seats before everyone else. You’ll get checked in automatically, which puts you at the head of the line (Southwest doesn’t assign seats), and gives you a great shot at an exit row or bulkhead seat, or at least something desirable right up front.
4. Seat assignments are actually overrated
Even when I haven’t bothered to book EarlyBird, which I rarely do on flights less than two hours, I’ve never been stuck in a middle seat, not in nearly a decade—the trick is remembering to check-in (you can do it in seconds, on the app), 24 hours before your flight takes off. This will typically place you far enough ahead of the pack that you’ll have a great selection of seats to choose from, once you get on the plane. One of the great things about deciding on the spot is that you get to select not only where, but who you sit next to—maybe I need quiet, and there’s a large group of Vegas-bound revelers at one end of the plane, or everyone in the exit row looks like they’ve had a bad day. No need to get involved—I can make choices, I can go somewhere else, maybe even to a row where someone invites me to sit down. Imagine that!
5. A serious business traveler can actually get work done
Nearly every time I’ve flown in recent years, the planes have had strong, reliable wireless internet service, for less than you’ll spend on some of the larger airlines. Don’t feel like working? Watch four episodes of House Hunters on HGTV for free, on your phone. Knock yourself out.
6. They’ve hardly ever made me late, and they never lose my luggage
I love when industry colleagues get together and brag about how they never check their bags. Why bother lugging my cases around, when I know that Southwest will always (fingers crossed) get them to where I’m going? They always make their connection in one piece, and so do I. Seriously, my bags have never missed a connection. Late flights, once in a blue moon, but never for anything other than weather.
7. It’s like a cool club that anyone can belong to
Southwest goes out of their way to make sure that their fares don’t turn up on other websites. This means that occasional travelers who aren’t fully aware of their options, which is a lot of travelers, actually, don’t even think about booking Southwest. I wish they would, for their own sakes, but I also don’t mind that pretty much everyone who flies Southwest, in my experience, is pretty well versed on how things work, and how to board. This means it tends to happen much faster than on other airlines, which means we can get in the air faster, which keeps everybody’s blood pressure low. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe flying Southwest as a zen experience, but on some days, it comes awfully close.
8. They’re a completely chill, affordable way to get to Hawaii
So maybe it took forever, but Southwest now serves the Aloha State, often with very attractive fares, giving everyone else a run for their money, which has brought the islands closer to the mainland for many people. Sure, it seemed to come at the expense of their Mexico program—bring back Mexico City, for goodness’ sake—but life’s all about tradeoffs.
9. The era of them serving a limited number of destinations is over
I’m not being funny, but if Southwest doesn’t fly someplace in the United States, or at least close to it, I probably don’t need to go there. Of course, it helps to be flexible. I don’t mind stopovers, not Southwest stopovers (see #6). We have a relationship built on trust, I know it’ll work out, and sometimes it’s nice to stop in Nashville for a chicken sandwich, mid-travel day.
10. Best domestic crew ever
Everyone has bad days, and life as a flight attendant isn’t easy, but the way Southwest’s crew seems to roll with the punches, often with a sense of humor. You just don’t see that on other domestic carriers, or at least I rarely do. It makes a massive difference to the flight experience, and it’s the first thing I miss when I’m on another airline.
The author has never accepted (nor has he been offered) complimentary flights from Southwest Airlines. He writes about travel for Airfarewatchdog, the only web site to list Southwest fares, even though they receive no commission for doing so.
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