8 Things You Need to Know Before You Fly Southwest Airlines

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8 things you need to know before you fly Southwest Airlines
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THE LATEST: 

  • Southwest Airlines says it will discontinue Senior Fares discount program on December 11, 2019.
  • In July 2019, Southwest Airlines announced that it will extend the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft until January 5, 2020.
  • Citing the 737 Max issue, the airline says it will cease operations at Newark Liberty International Airport effective November 3, 2019.

You can’t mistake those flying colors: “Bold Blue,” “Warm Red,” “Sunrise Yellow” and “Summit Silver”. That’s the color scheme of one of the most recognizable aviation brands in the world: Southwest Airlines.

If you’ve never flown Southwest or you’re thinking of booking a ticket again in the near future, here are some important things to know about the Dallas, Texas-based carrier:

Southwest Airlines: What You Need to Know Before You Book a Flight

Incorporated in 1967, Southwest (then known as Southwest Air) has operated for more than four decades and become known as the world’s largest low-cost airline.

While not as big as Delta, United or American, Southwest has carved a niche for itself, cultivating a fiercely loyal customer base namely because of two things: The company is the only major U.S. airline that offers up to two checked bags for free (depending on weight and size) and it doesn’t charge for changes to flight reservations.

1. Where Does Southwest Fly? 

Southwest currently serves 100 domestic destinations and 10 international cities. The airline launched service to several new destinations in 2019, including Hawaii. The airline also began international service to a number of resort destinations Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and San Jose, Costa Rica.

2. How Are Southwest’s Airfares Structured?

Southwest offers three different airfare categories: “Wanna Get Away,” “Anytime,” and “Business Select.” All of them include two free checked bags and no fees for flight changes (customers may be charged the difference in airfares). The airline also offers refundable Senior Fares, which are discounts that ticket agents share with older travelers. Here’s how the fare categories break down:

  • Wanna Get Away: These nonrefundable fares are typically the lowest priced, as long as they’re purchased in advance
  • Anytime: These are refundable fares (in most cases) and offer a higher frequent flyer point payoff under the airline’s Rapid Rewards program
  • Business Select: As its name implies, this fare caters to business travelers and offers the highest frequent flyer payoff. Business Select travelers also get priority seating known as “Group A boarding,” a complimentary alcoholic drink (you’ve gotta be at least 21, of course) and priority security and/or ticket counter access at participating airports.

3. What Should I Expect on a Southwest Flight?

Southwest may offer some affordable fares, but as passengers have come to find out, they don’t skimp on the amenities. Each flight has complimentary soft drinks and snacks. They also provide Wi-Fi and free live and on-demand TV (on international flights, licensing restrictions may apply) including movies and popular series. You don’t have to purchase Wi-Fi to take advantage of its iMessage options and other pre-downloaded apps.

4. How Do Southwest Boarding Groups Work?

Uniquely, Southwest boards passengers by group. There are no seat assignments! Instead, you are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) when you check-in for your flight.

Tip: Check-in for your flight as soon as possible (you can check-in 24 hours before your flight time)! The earlier you check-in, the better chance you have to get in an A group. That means you’ll have more seating options and overhead space to store your carry-on.

5. How Do You Check-In With Southwest?

Southwest recently upgraded its reservations platform, allowing for at least six ways passengers can check-in. Here are the different options:

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  • Curbside check-in with the skycap at the airport
  • EarlyBird check-in ($15 one-way) is available up to 36 hours before the flight
  • Mobile check-in (via digital boarding pass)
  • Online check-in (via Southwest.com)
  • Self-service kiosk check-in at the airport
  • Ticket counter check-in (30 minutes to three hours before flight)

RELATED: Southwest Airlines EarlyBird Check-In: Should you buy it?

6. How Does Southwest Keep Fares So Low?

One of the things many fliers want to know is how Southwest is able to offer such competitive fares compared to what the major airlines are charging. Southwest’s service philosophy is quite different from the “hub-and-spoke” system most big U.S. airlines use.

Airlines like Delta and United base their operations on a number of central “hub” cities and serve other cities mostly via one-stop service. But Southwest employs a “point-to-point” service, which allows for more nonstop routes to smaller cities.

7. How Does Southwest’s International Service Stack Up?

Southwest offers international service to 14 destinations from 16 cities within the 48 contiguous United States.

The airline says it will resume daily flights from Austin to Cancun in November 2019. It is also beginning Saturday-only service out of Houston and Dallas to Caribbean countries.

8. How Do Southwest Customers View the Airline?

Southwest customers continue to be pretty high on the airline. In addition to the free checked bags, the company allows each ticketed passenger to check one stroller and one car seat free of charge, which is a boon for families.

When it comes to customer satisfaction, Southwest is consistently rated one of the best in the American Customer Satisfaction Index report:

Airline 2019 Score 2018 Score
Alaska Airlines 80 79
JetBlue Airways 79 79
Southwest Airlines 79 80
Delta Air Lines 75 74
American Airlines 73 74
All others 71 73
Allegiant Air 71 74
United Airlines 70 67
Frontier Airlines 64 62
Spirit Airlines 63 62

Have you flown Southwest Airlines? Tell Team Clark about your flying experience on FacebookTwitter or below in the comments section!

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