Wednesday, May 31, 2006

View from the 23rd Row

Southwest Effect

My father and I were talking about this the other day and I thought it would make a good "View From the 23rd Row." I apologize if I've talked about this before.

Since its inception Southwest has had a chilling effect on other air carriers. While they are not completely comparable, I reckon it to what happens when WalMart moves into a town. They take over, other stores, in this case airlines, start to shrivel up and go away. They price their tickets cheaper than the other guy. How does this happen? As an employee of a semi-successful airline, I have thought long and hard on this. How can they do this?

Well, first off, no unions, so they don't have all these ridiculous rules and salary requirements to adhere too - they can pay their employee's lower than the average industry rate.
Second, they run in markets they know there is an opening, where there is a need for cheap flights (and also where gates, landing fees, etc will be less), Southwest is no one's fool, selling tickets at $80 is never going to cover the cost at O'Hare, but it might suffice for Midway.
Third, they fly a unified fleet, no variations on their planes, which makes maintainence a lot easier and also an even pay scale for pilots, no having to readjust a pilot's pay based on the plane he is flying. It's all the same!
Fourth, they don't have the silly hub and spoke system that most of the legacy carriers do - where people have to make connections, people don't like to do it and it's expensive.

Southwest, like WalMart has done a great job of branding, whenever one thinks of getting a cheap airticket, one's mind immediately thinks, 'Southwest.' But...and here is the big but, just like WalMart, Southwest is not necessarily the cheapest guy in town, they have just gotten you thinking that.

For example from Baltimore to Tampa on Southwest can be $79 one way, double it, with taxes, let's say roughly $165.
On United, from Dulles to Tampa can be a combined $115, found on

The message for this week's post than is to not always assume you are getting the cheapest ticket simply because you are going to the commonly considered "low-cost" carrier. ALWAYS compare prices! This will mean having to go onto Southwest's site as well as expedia or travelocity, but isn't it worth it to save some cash?


Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Isn't that why the airlines are doing so badly, everybody wants the cheapest seats?

3:52 PM  
Blogger Melas said...

Southwest is the worst airline and I have sleep deprivation to prove it. Calling ourselves saving money, we booked roundtrip flights to Cleveland at the $79 fare for a wedding. We left Friday night from Midway about 20 minutes late and made up 10 minutes in the air so that wasn't too bad. Luggage was on the carosel when we got there, cab to the hotel. No problem.
We got a ride from my brother for our return trip Monday evening. We were supposed to fly out at 6:55 pm eastern so we felt pretty good about getting to the airport at 5. We had dinner at a crappy airport Max & Erma's, but got to the gate at 5:30. We were told by the nice agent that she didn't know of any problems with our flight even though the 3:30 flight hadn't left the ground at that point. At 7 they announced that the plane was delayed due to weather in Chicago. Ironically the weather was on TV at the gate and it showed clearing skies over Chicago. At 7:15 United (at the next gate) made their final boarding call for the 7:20 flight to Midway.
They announced that the plane would be leaving the gate in Chicago shortly and that we should be in the air by 8:30 Eastern. At 8, they called for the 3:30 flight. They wouldn't let anyone from the later flight aboard because they didn't have time to process the tickets since the plane "was already late."
By this time some fellow passengers, gathered like cattle for the B line to board the plane, decided to call the airline to find out what was going on with our plane. Turns out it wasn't due to weather. SWA didn't have a crew to fly the plane from Midway to Hopkins. Great. 9 pm the restaurants and stores at Hopkins close for the night. 10 pm the bathrooms are closed for 45 minutes for service. 11 pm the air conditioning in the terminal is turned off for the night. Midnight they announce that the plane has left the gate. 1 am the plane lands in Cleveland. Standby passengers are told to join the A line. B line and C line passengers who've waited meekly for 7 hours are livid but the gate agent tells them she has no control over boarding pass designations, it's controlled by the computer. Line A boards and the snippy flight attendant tells line B to "hurry up we're already late."
I'm willing to pay hundreds of dollars extra to fly an airline that actually cares about its customers.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Merci said...

I'm afraid we still do things the old-fashioned way: we book through a travel agent. We don't fly that often. When we do, it's usually for a big trip. We've had a close call or two with travel arrangements, so we like to have a TA to help out when things get messed up at the last minute.

Having said that, we should probably check the airfares more closely, or pay attention to upcoming sales before we book.

For our next vacation, we've booked a direct flight to SF. It didn't cost that much more, and it seemed like a much better option than layovers and plane changes.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Virginia Gal said...

Joe - bingo, I think many people consider air travel like using your local subway, as a mass transit, with equally low costs. Airlines are going to have to force people to adjust to higher prices, that's why industry experts agree that one carrier in America needs to go under, when there are less options to customers, airlines can price their product higher. Simple supply and demand.

P - Wow, I can't believe that! That is the first bad Southwest story I have heard and that is a doozy. I'm surprised by the Customer Service Agent, Southwest is reknowned for its good customer service, despite being a low-cost carrier. Next time you should write a letter to the company, at least so the employee would be warned not to exhibit such bad behavior. Sorry about such a bad flight experience, that is horrible.

Merci - If you ever need someone to take a look, feel free to email me, I have no problem surfing websites and everyone has a phone number, so I can find the rate and than give you the phone number. I'm sure, though, that the travel agent found you a cheap rate and direct is best, my mom and I did that to India (direct from Newark on Continental). Direct to SFO in your area hmm gets me thinking...are you flying US Airways?

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Merci said...

Yes, USAir. I think United also ran direct flights.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Virginia Gal said...

oh I hope you have a good flight! Any bad service you must take down names and write to the company.

9:36 AM  
Blogger RPM said...

@virginia gal: Isn't it all about branding? Southwest has done well enough in that department for casual travelers as well as business travelers to not comparison shop and just choose Southwest for low fares.

I believe that the only class of travelers who would not do that is more-than-average traveler with time and energy to search around. Remember, expedia or for that matter hotwire or orbitz are never consistently the cheapest. So if you really need cheap fares, you have to search multiple websites and then decide.

It all comes down to how much do you consistently save over Southwest (consistent is important) as opposed to how much time you end up spending to get those savings.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Virginia Gal said...

rpm - you are right, it is a cost basis analysis, cost of ticket vs. time spent searching. I'd say for you, who travels weekly, a consistent low fare is better than weekly searchs but for someone like Merci who is going on a one-time vacation, it would probably be cheaper to do the searching.
It's hit or miss on those travel sites, sometimes you can get some amazingly one-time cheap deals!

12:09 PM  
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