Nader says: Fly Southwest!

Frugal Flying
by Ralph Nader
August 6, 2008

Two widening passenger service philosophies are contrasting themselves daily. One declares that it is necessary to charge airline travelers for just about everything but breathing and using the restrooms. Count nearly all the major airlines, including Jet Blue in this category.

The other approach is championed by Southwest Airlines, which avoids the added charges, penalties and unilateral charges in fine-print agreements with their customers.

Why should you be surprised when you learn that Southwest has the overall best fares, most pleasant service, answers phones promptly with human beings, records more profits during the past eight years than all other major carriers combined and pays its CEO, and President the least
of their CEO competitors?

Treating their customers as if they matter all the time means not treating them as ATM machines. This means that at Southwest you do not get charged $15 or more for checking bags, do not get charged $25 or more for using your “free” frequent-flier credits, do not get charged
$150 for changing your tickets.

U.S. Airways has started charging $2 for bottled water and soft drinks. Not Southwest. The major airlines charge parents $100 one way for an unaccompanied child. Not Southwest.

Jet Blue is joining other airlines by charging for extra legroom. Not Southwest. Remember when a taller passenger bought a ticket, and his or her knees were part of the deal?

Jet Blue, which started out as a Southwest clone, has thrown in the towel and is adopting a strategy of protective imitation of Delta, American Airlines, Northwest and United Airlines. Jet Blue is even selling pillows and blankets.

High fuel prices and excess capacity are given as the two reasons for the barrage of charges-as for packaged snacks-or charging you more for buying tickets offline. Of course, irritating customers, bad service and poor employee practices do tend to result in more empty seats.

Moreover, the airline industry lobby took too long before it began directly and openly taking on the oil companies and Wall Street speculators.

From a consumer perspective, I find it astonishing how these “gotcha capitalists” (to use the title of Bob Sullivan’s recent book on the fee feasts) work overtime, with their bean counters, to alienate their passengers. They calculate their revenues from such fees without considering any loss of passenger patronage. They figure that people have no choice if all their competitors commit the same gouges.

Southwest stands alone among the majors as the marvelous maverick in the spirit of its beloved founder, Herb Kelleher, who just retired along with his ex-president Colleen Barrett. Higher costs are folded into the overall fare structure.

Will Gary Collins, the successor CEO of Southwest, uphold the same traditions of success? Only if his passengers stay alert to any slide. For now, Southwest’s slogan is “LUV is freedom from fees.”

10 Responses to “Nader says: Fly Southwest!”

  1. Bill Lussenheide Says:

    I like Southwest. A well ran company, and certainly an example of success in a very tough industry.

    I have only one complaint. I always feel a bit unnerved flying on a plane that is painted in such clownish colors. The rims on the tires are painted orange, or the funky “baby poop brown” fuselages.

    The crews are wearing short pants, or cowboy hats, or funky looking liberace-ish ties. It all comes off a bit to much like Mardis Gra for me, when I have to literally trust my life in the hands of someone else!

    Call me old school, World War II ear thinking , but I always feel a bit more comfortable on United Airlines. Planes painted in nice uniform blues and grays. ...The Captain comes aboard,... a good looking man with white hair and a chiseled jaw, in a dark blue uniform, with a Captains Hat and bars on the collar…. (on the speaker)- “This is your Captain Jim McConnors, I have over 25 THOUSAND hours of flight time and have been flying these birds since the Korean War. We are going to an altitude of Angels 32 and expect to arrive on schedule in Ontario California at Oh-Two Hundred hours. Have a nice flight and thank you for flying United”.

    No bingo games, no paper hat contests, no sing alongs, just plain old fashioned no nonsense travel. A very secure feeling indeed!

    Of course I guess Greyhound Bus Lines can still make the same claims! LOL!

  2. Roscoe Says:

    Does anyone know why the profitable Southwest model works and why the other airlines haven’t been able to copy it? The others aren’t in the same position as some mom and pop variety store trying to counter the buying clout of Wal-Mart.

  3. Impeach Bush Says:

    I’ll always fly Southwest when possible, due to the fact they don’t add on the rediculus fees of the other airlines. Their ticket prices always seem to be cheaper too.

  4. steveconn Says:

    Southwest is fine when there is no baggage transfer from another airline. Otherwise they have ALWAYS charged a transfer fee others did not.

  5. Bill Lussenheide Says:

    There are least two competitive advantages that Southwest has…

    1) There entire fleet is the same type of aircraft. Easier to maintain, schedule, and smaller parts inventory etc.

    2) They have done a fantastic job using the futures markets to manage and hedge fuel cost variations.

  6. Citizens For A Better Veterans Home[s] Says:

    Hate to intrude on the love fest. Just dress code warning. Go conservatively. No tank tops or tube tops. The corporate fashion police will literally toss you out of your seat. Hopefully not at 27,000 feet.

  7. Chuck Moulton Says:

    Southwest has already abandoned its former CEO’s practices.

    Southwest was able to have better profits than other airlines in large part because it was not hurt by the inherent risk in the rise in oil prices. Southwest bought futures in oil and hedged the risk in prices rising against those futures. Essentially speculating in oil helped Southwest minimize the risk that oil prices would rise higher than anticipated, which would have cut profit margins because they sell tickets months in advanced at fixed fares. No other major airline did this.

    In contrast, the new CEO has sent a letter to all Southwest customers saying he supports government intervention to prevent oil speculation. Such regulation would prevent companies like Southwest from hedging against the risk of oil price fluctuations. So essentially he has abandoned the primary Southwest comparative advantage in business strategy and put all of Southwest’s profits at risk.

    The new CEO is a moron. I predict Southwest will similarly abandon its other good business practices in short order.

  8. Deran Says:

    Imagine a President that flew Southwest to get around. If Nader ever did get into a three way with Obama and McCain, people would go crazy for him (Nader).

  9. Justin Case Says:

    If Nader ever did get into a three way with Obama and McCain

    The Constitution Party would never allow that to happen.

  10. Danny Ocean Says:

    Mr. Nader,

    You are the man! Just one correction it’s Gary Kelly who’s hands that Southwest Airlines Future is in. Gary Collins was a bad talk show host from the 70”s & 80”s.

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