Southwest Airlines is not big on fees, they include everything – or that’s what they want you to believe. But isn’t a rose by any other name still a seating charge? I think that’s how it goes…
Other Carriers Nickel and Dime Customers
In the post I wrote last week, Some Southwest Customers Blind to Shortcomings, I should have added “and largely unaware of the benefits of other carriers.” Many wrote in discussing how they fly all the time for business and have to check a bag, like the space they get on the plane and the ability to jump on an earlier flight – despite realizing the irony because all carriers offer those benefits to their elites as well and thusly making my point.
The general sentiment was that Southwest may be more money, but they include things such as, yes, checked luggage that can add cost to other less expensive carriers. They’d rather pay more once and not worry about being held hostage by the carrier and the “cheaper” fare at every turn.
Many cited concerns about being forced into a middle seat in coach, potentially separated from family, as a reason they chose to pay the Southwest premium and avoid the nickel & diming at Delta, United, and American.
Early-bird Checkin and Upgraded Boarding
I mentioned that I don’t hate the airline and was scheduled to fly them this week. When checkin time came 24 hours prior to departure this week, I was alerted on my phone, opened the app and checked in within 20 seconds. Despite checkin perfection, I was assigned B53.
How did that happen? Southwest sells two tiers of better boarding and thus choice seating selections. The classic method is the $15-25/flight segment Early-bird checkin. This method checks guests in 36 hours before departure, a full 12 hours of schmucks like me.
But wait, there’s more. Early-bird checkin doesn’t guarantee an “A” boarding group so Southwest also offers to sell that elite benefit to anyone. “Upgraded boarding” (early-bird checkin is far more creative) is sold for $30, 40, or $50 per flight segment and guarantees an A1-15 boarding slot (which it offers for free to A-List members.)
A Fee By Any Other Name
Southwest doesn’t usually talk about the competition, it’s the customers who do. Looking back on previous Southwest posts makes it clear, the other carriers have a reputation of charging their customers for everything and one of the most hated is paying for any seat that is not a middle seat in the back of coach. If you want to choose your seat to sit together with family, it’ll cost you between $15-30 depending on the carrier and the seat. Quelle horreur!
But Southwest has me boarding 113th. Let’s put this together. On a 737-700 with 143 seats, checking in exactly when I should but not paying for any expedited boarding line cuts I was 30th from last to board and thus, to choose my seat. On a 24 row jet, finding three seats together for my family is possibly impossible. If I were flying on a heavy business route where no one really wanted to sit next to each other, I’d be nearly guaranteed a middle seat simply because I didn’t pay to board early.
How is this any different than charging a fee to select my exact seat on one of the other carriers? Is this not the exact same thing as a seating assignment charge from the others?
While the other carriers charge to positively secure your exact seat, Southwest has built on the same anxiety by in effect selling the ability to select your seat. Both have the same result, if you don’t pay a fee to gain special access above the cost of your ticket, you risk the potential of being stuck in a middle seat, separated from the rest of your party. Just call a fee, a fee.
What do you think? Are these two different? Are there other charges that Southwest has mirrored but somehow masked the same fees of their competitors?