Southwest Vows Its Flyers Are ‘Not Going to See Basic Economy’

Jan 28, 2019

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Southwest frequent flyers can breathe a sigh of relief.

The budget carrier’s CEO has promised that Southwest will not be rolling out the widely dreaded basic economy class to its flights any time soon.

Almost every other US airline, including most recently JetBlue, has introduced basic economy to stay financially competitive. The service is the lowest level of economy aimed at budget flyers and used to up-sell other fare classes, like regular or premium economy. The downfalls of basic economy, usually defeated with the right credit card, mean flyers can’t select their seats and for the most part can’t bring on a carryon bag, just a personal item.

Southwest says the no-frills fare class is “not what we do.”

“You’re not going to see basic economy from Southwest,” CEO Gary Kelly said on the Thursday after the airline’s earnings call, according to Skift. “We have, we think, better opportunities that fit our brand. I love the fact that we’re different, and they unbundle and we don’t. And so we just need to continue to find ways with the universe of travelers and the varying needs that they have to see how we can stay true to our brand and offer something of more value to road warriors, to once-a-year flyers, whatever it might be.”

Kelly also confirmed that despite rumors, Southwest will continue to allow passengers two free checked bags on every flight.

It’s not exactly clear how Southwest plans to compete with other airlines offering lower-priced basic-economy fares on the same routes. Airlines that have dragged their feet in the slow but seemingly inevitable march to basic economy because it is against their brand have eventually given in to the bare-bones trend. A prime example of this is JetBlue.

“At JetBlue, we never liked the ‘no-frills’ approach,” JetBlue president Joanna Geraghty said in an email to employees when the airline first made the decision to introduce basic economy. “But with these competitors now offering basic economy on many routes we fly, customer behavior suggests our success is at risk if we do not disrupt this market by lowering fares without sacrificing the experience.”

Southwest did say that it will be introducing two new ancillary fee services in 2019, like its popular early bird check-in, but it has not yet offered details on those services.

“We see opportunities where we can drive business in greater volumes or more efficiently in terms of the pricing,” Kelly said. “And that’s what we’re going after here in the near term.”

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