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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.
Southwest Airlines: What You Need to Know Before You Book a Flight
Incorporated in 1967, Southwest (originally called 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: It offers two checked bags for free (depending on weight and size) and it doesn’t charge for flight changes.
Table of Contents:
- Where Does Southwest Fly?
- How Are Southwest’s Fares Structured?
- What Should I Expect on a Southwest Flight?
- How Do Southwest Boarding Groups Work?
- How Do You Check-In With Southwest?
- How Does Southwest Keep Fares So Low?
- How Do Customers View Southwest?
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:
1. Where Does Southwest Fly?
Southwest currently serves 100 domestic destinations and 10 international cities, including Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and San Jose, Costa Rica.
Southwest doesn’t fly to Europe or Asia. See their route map here.
2. How Are Southwest’s Fares Structured?
After discontinuing Senior Fares in late 2019, 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).
Here’s what to know about Southwest’s fare categories:
- 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 (21 and over) 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 comes with the following features:
- Complimentary soft drinks and snacks
- Wi-Fi and free live and on-demand TV (licensing restrictions may apply on international flights)
- iMessage options and other pre-loaded apps
4. How Do Southwest Boarding Groups Work?
Uniquely, Southwest boards passengers by group. There are no seat assignments!
Here’s how it works: When you check-in for your flight, you are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and position (1-60+).
Tip: Check-in for your flight as soon as possible (24 hours before your flight, if you can)!
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 allows at least six ways passengers can check-in for their flight. Here are the different options:
- Curbside check-in with the skycap at the airport
- EarlyBird check-in ($15 one-way) 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)
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 low 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 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 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:
Best and Worst Airlines for Customer Satisfaction
|Airlines||2020-2021 Score||% Change From Last Year|
|Delta Air Lines||79||3%|
|All Airlines (Average)||76||1.3%|
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