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The #1 Reason I Prefer Southwest Airlines Has Nothing to Do With Rewards

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The #1 Reason I Prefer Southwest Airlines Has Nothing to Do With Rewards

Erin LizzoThe #1 Reason I Prefer Southwest Airlines Has Nothing to Do With RewardsMillion Mile Secrets Team

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INSIDER SECRET: Perks like two free checked bags and the ability to book award tickets without blackout dates are just a few of the reasons many folks love Southwest.

When I was growing up, my parents were really loyal to certain brands, and therefore, so was I. And like many families in the 1980’s we flew exclusively on TWA. My dad was a pilot, so it was easy to trust his choice in airlines. We knew that if worse came to worst, he could step in and land whatever plane we were on.

Having a pilot for a dad felt like a special privilege. Early on, he taught me and my brother how to find the emergency exits if the plane filled up with smoke and we couldn’t see (the trick is to count the number of seats between you and the closest exit sign when you sit down, and I still do this out of habit). This didn’t scare us, it delighted us. We were in on a little survival secret. We had a chance!

Those were the days where the pilot would take the time to give you a quick tour of the cockpit and a small TWA winged pin to wear for the rest of the day. It was like meeting a celebrity.

Even as a child I was always ready to travel to new and exciting places. (Photo by TravnikovStudio/Shutterstock)

Changes in Altitude, Changes in Attitude

Sometime shortly after 9/11, I developed a fear of flying. This was devastating for someone who had grown up without this fear, and who used to look out the window and imagine running across the clouds without considering what was below. As all irrational fears go, there was no sort of reason that could shake me out of it. No matter how calm my travel companions were, no matter how many times my dad explained the exact mechanics of how planes fly, and no matter how much trashy TV I watched during the flight, I was scared. My hands would start to sweat as the engines geared up for takeoff. My heart would race as we climbed into the sky. I bargained with myself that things would be OK once we started to descend (although, statistically, this isn’t really true). I would clutch my neighbor and ask the flight attendant if everything was OK at the slightest bump. In short, flying was not enjoyable. It was something I thought about as soon as I started planning a trip. It was a big, unfortunate deterrent to flying overseas.

Lack of Control = Fear

It was easy to recognize that this fear of flying had primarily to do with a loss of control. Yes, of course, the statistics show that flying is the safest form of travel — but try telling someone who is terrified to fly that they are worse off in a car and don’t be surprised by the look you get. In a car, I can hit the brakes. I can decide if I’m too tired to drive or if the weather isn’t safe. When you fly you let all of that go. Yes, there’s an actual professional operating the vehicle. And there’s a huge network of people who are dedicated to keeping your plane safe and in the sky. Still, when something does go wrong, as rare as that may be, the results are not forgiving. You’re not dealing with a case of whiplash after a collision; you know the odds are not in your favor.

So in flying, we let go of control. But this often starts before even stepping on the plane. The entire process of booking travel can feel dicey. What if you need to change your flight last minute? What if you have more than one bag? Air travel has become a game of how to navigate the maze of limited options. That’s one of the reasons that we share so much information on Million Mile Secrets. We want to help give everyone as much of a leg up as possible when it comes to travel.

Southwest gives its customers a little bit of that control back. You can travel with two free bags. That’s more than I typically need, but it takes the pressure off trying to jam everything into a carry-on and sneak it on the plane when even that carry-on isn’t allowed. It also has what now feels like the biggest luxury ever: you can change your flight online, with no questions asked and no fees (unless the ticket you rebook is more expensive than the original one). This even applies to tickets that were purchased with miles.

Recently, a friend and I traveled to Nashville for a fun girls weekend. A few weeks before our trip I texted her to say “Can’t wait to see you on the 15th!” She replied immediately, “Don’t you mean the 21st?” Oh no, I thought. I had booked two one-way tickets with miles for this trip, one on Southwest and one on Delta. It took me exactly three minutes to change my Southwest flight online. It took 90 minutes and a lot of negotiation (pleading) for the person I talked to at Delta to finally agree to switch my dates. Life can be hard sometimes, right? That’s why I try to go with the companies that make it easier.

The #1 Reason I Prefer Southwest Airlines

The ability to change a flight on the fly is really convenient. So is the option to bring two checked bags for free. And to use your miles for flights at any time without blackout dates, and so on. But what all of this adds up to IMHO is something simple, but perhaps grossly overlooked, in the airline industry: The people that work at this company are just nice. They seem happy. The customer service attendants say yes more frequently than they say no. The flight attendants make cute jokes and banter at takeoff and touchdown (and they are generally actually funny). The experience is positive. It feels good to fly with them. And this, in turn, makes me feel safer because it seems like they have looked at the customer experience and said: “How can we make this better?” Then they did. Thank you, Southwest. I noticed and I appreciate you.

Am I the only one, or do you agree that it makes a difference in your overall travel experience when know you’ll be dealing with nice people? I think it’s something that we kind of overlook and take for granted at this point, but should we? How difficult is it to be patient and courteous to those travelers who are potentially nervous about flying or who are traveling with their young child or an older adult?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Yep, I agree completely. I’d say the #1 reason I fly Southwest preferentially is no change fees, but this is #2.

Wonderful post Erin; thanks for sharing your personal history with flying. There is definitely something to be said for having “control” about your flights including the ability to cancel or switch without worrying about Excessive fees. Southwest service is also usually top notch. Couple of comments:

Phonecalls can take a lot of time no matter what airline unless you have dedicated line as a status holder. And even then it may take a while given the always present “we are experiencing a higher than usual wait time” message. I have gotten very quick customer service response on Twitter, including Southwest (for example trying to add a lap infant after forgetting to do it when booking).

Also, Delta or another airline won’t give you a problem changing or canceling your ticket. The issue will be if they charge you a ridiculous $250-$300+ nonrefundable ticket fee, which may be more than the cost of your actual ticket.

I think you can certainly say more about why a Southwest flying experience is vastly superior to other US airlines. Even the money back (voucher) on “nonrefundable” fares and zero rescriptions on fares booked with points. The only negative from my perspective is if you prefer “premium” seats or hate paying a $15-50 surcharge pp on early boarding (arguably not a big deal since their ticket prices USUALLY tend to be pretty competitive to begin with).

I usually do prefer to fly Southwest for US flights if I can fly direct. That was a lot easier when I flew out of Saint Louis instead of San Antonio. For long distance flights like flying to Honolulu, If I have the flexibility, I would rather fly in a more comfortable premium seat (redeeming business class points, etc).

Thanks!