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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You can’t mistake those flying colors: “Bold Blue,” “Warm Red,” “Sunrise Yellow” and “Summit Silver,” according to the 2014 press release announcing those hues. That’s the color scheme of one of the most recognizable aviation brands in the world: Southwest Airlines.

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.

Southwest Airlines: What you need to know before you book a flight

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.

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. The airline launched service to several new destinations in 2017, including international service to a number of resort destinations Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and San Jose, Costa Rica.

Flights to Hawaii are slated to begin later in 2018.

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?

Southwest boards passengers by group, meaning you will be assigned in either group A, B or C. In each group, it is first come, first serve.

In October 2018, the airline began testing a quicker boarding and de-boarding procedure at select airports in California. Travelers will be able to board and deplane out of two doors instead of one — the front of the plane or a rear door, according to the Los Angeles Biz.

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:

  • 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)

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.

The Deltas and Uniteds of the world 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. Not only does flying to smaller cities mean less air traffic, it allows the airline to schedule more flights at more convenient times. In 2017, 76% of Southwest’s customers booked nonstop flights, which is one of the best rates in the industry.

According to Southwest’s website, the airline currently offers 19 weekday roundtrips between Dallas Love Field and Houston Hobby, 12 weekday roundtrips between Burbank and Oakland, 12 weekday roundtrips between San Diego and San Jose, eight weekday roundtrips between Denver and Chicago Midway, and 10 weekday roundtrips between Los Angeles International and Las Vegas.

7. How does Southwest’s international service stack up?

Southwest closed out 2017 with international service to 14 destinations from 16 cities within the 48 contiguous United States. For 2018, the company announced international service out of the following seven cities: Indianapolis, San Jose, Sacramento, Columbus, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh-Durham. To save money, the airline ceased service to Varadero and Santa Clara, Cuba, but will continue to operate in Havana.

Also in 2017, Southwest expanded its international flight schedule out of South Florida, offering nine nonstop flights to places like Montego Bay, Jamaica; Belize City, Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Havana; Nassau, The Bahamas; San Jose, Costa Rica; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Turks and Caicos.

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 came in tops in the American Customer Satisfaction Index report that was released in April 2018:

Company 2017 2018 Change
Southwest 80 80 0%
Alaska 78 79 1%
JetBlue 82 79 -4%
Allegiant 71 74 4%

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

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Craig Johnson is a conscious money-saver who still reads paperback books and listens to vinyl. He likes to write about how technology is making things easier and more affordable — but also sometimes more dangerous — for the modern consumer. You can reach Craig at [email protected]
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