Thank You, Herb: 10 Reasons to Be Grateful for Kelleher’s Southwest Airlines

Jan 5, 2019

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The airline industry lost a titan when we learned of the passing of Herb Kelleher earlier this week. Kelleher was the feisty, ingenious founder of Southwest Airlines and had countless industry breakthroughs during his 50 years of involvement with the airline. While some of his most memorable innovations (hot pants, free bottles of booze with a paid ticket) have since been retired, there are still plenty of reasons to thank Kelleher for Southwest’s impact on the airline industry. Here are 10 of our favorites.

Friendly, Efficient Staff

We hear horror stories every day about rude airline employees and fights on airplanes. Southwest may not be immune to it, but you’ll rarely see them mentioned. Southwest Airlines has a culture where its employees truly want to help you have a better flight. And, it’s also one of the few airlines with its own cleaning crews, able to turn planes around more quickly. That leads to more flights, cheaper prices and less delays when things do go wrong.

No “Hunger Games” Boarding

There will be no tributes in a Southwest gate area! Due in large part to a consistent, organized boarding process, you won’t find a crush of humanity to board the airplane. While Southwest doesn’t have assigned seating, everyone seems to figure out pretty easily that you wait until your number is called. That leads to a much more relaxed gate area and an orderly boarding process. There’s also usually no crush to find overhead bin space, largely because…

…Checked Bags Fly Free

Southwest Airlines has been asked more times than we can count if it’s ever going to start charging for checked bags. The answer has always been the same: Your first two bags are free to check on every Southwest flight, even to the Caribbean (and we expect the same for Hawaii). With more people letting their luggage fly in the belly of the plane, there’s less fighting onboard to squeeze a bag in the overhead bins.

Generous Family Boarding Policy

If you have a child six years of age or under, Southwest Airlines will let you board in between the A and B boarding groups. This generally means no more than 60 people are already onboard. Finding seats together is a snap!

Easy to Understand Change Fees

Southwest’s policy to change a paid ticket is an easy one: The fee is exactly $0. Just pay whatever the difference is between the original fare and the new fare. You don’t need to wait on hold while the agent checks with a special rate desk or for a supercomputer to calculate the ticket difference. You can look right on Southwest’s website and figure it out.

Fare Sales Mean Money (And Points) Back In Your Pocket

Southwest Airlines runs some pretty great fare sales throughout the year. One-way flights can frequently be found for less than $50. When those fare sales happen, you usually have a couple of days to check all of your existing reservations. If a flight you already purchased went down in price, you can request the difference back from Southwest Airlines. This is true for both paid tickets and award tickets. How many other airlines do you know that give you money back when they have a fare sale?

Free Changes/Cancellation On Award Tickets

Doesn’t it drive you crazy when you redeem your hard-earned miles for an award ticket, only to be charged hundreds of dollars when you have to change or cancel your plans? Not on Southwest. There’s no fee to change or cancel your award tickets.

Companion Pass, Companion Pass, Companion Pass

We’d argue the companion pass is the single best benefit of airline loyalty. Earn 110,000 qualifying points or take 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year and you’ll be able to bring a companion with you for free (you’ll pay a couple bucks for the airport security fee) on every flight you take, regardless of whether it’s a paid or award ticket. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card can get you 60,000 of those points pretty quickly (after spending $3,000 in the first three months).

And, if you time it right, you can have the companion pass for almost two years. A free ticket for someone traveling with you, every time you fly. Doesn’t get simpler or better than that!

Southwest Is Sneaky Good For Business Travel

While still building up a network in the northeast, Southwest has a legit network out west. Once you get past the Mississippi River, Southwest Airlines has a fantastic network for business travelers. There is plenty of frequency between business travel cities, especially in California. Southwest also has business fares that allow for early boarding and that earn more points. As we noted above, tickets are easy to change — a huge boon for business travelers. And, fast, reliable Wi-Fi is a way of life on Southwest (looking at you with the cranky eye, United).

Hawaii!

Southwest Airlines is on the cusp of launching flights to a destination its most loyal fans have been clamoring for. Destination cities have already been announced and we expect Southwest to start selling tickets to Hawaii soon. Some folks might prefer a lie-flat seat for those long flights, but for families, Southwest is likely to be a welcome entrant into the market. You’ll find reasonable legroom in coach for flights to Hawaii, especially compared to American Airlines’ new 737 MAX product. And, with flights to Hawaii and between the islands, we hope to see some great fare sales.

The Bottom Line

We may never see a personality like Herb Kelleher in the airline industry again. Unapologetic and imaginative, Kelleher started out when the airline industry really was the wild, wild west. His passing is mourned by employees and customers alike. But, we don’t expect Southwest Airlines to change for the worse anytime soon. Simplicity, or TransFarency as Southwest calls it, is a way of life for the airline, whose stock symbol fittingly is LUV. Long live Kelleher’s memory and his companion pass.

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