Southwest Airlines was started over 38 years ago as a small Texas airline and has grown to become one of the largest airlines in the United States because it differentiates itself as the most successful low-fare, high frequency, point-to-point carrier. Since 1987 Southwest has consistently led the entire airline industry with the lowest ratio of complaints per passenger boarded. What does Southwest do differently that no one else in airlines does? It keeps things simple and consistent, which drives costs down, maximizes productive assets, and helps manage customer expectations.
First, one plane fits all. Unlike the network carriers which operate all manner of regional jets, Southwest flies just one plane type, the Boeing 737 series. That saves Southwest millions in maintenance costs. It also gives the airline unique flexibility to move its 527 aircraft throughout the route network between 67 cities without costly disruptions and reconfigurations. Second, Southwest specializes in very dense, short haul markets, flying nonstop between two points which is different from the traditional “hub-and-spoke” system of most other airlines. This minimizes the amount of time planes sit on the ground at delay prone hubs and allows the average Southwest aircraft to be in the air for more than an hour longer each day than a similarly sized jet flown by a network carrier1. Southwest also tries to use secondary airports which generally have lower costs and may be more convenient to travelers than the major airports to the same destinations. Third, Southwest offers simple in-flight service with just one class, a decent coach cabin that is slightly more spacious than the competitors, and customers are not assigned seats. In September 2009, Southwest adopted a new policy whereby passengers may pay and extra $10 and participate in “EarlyBird Check-in”. There have never been in-flight meals, just beverages and snacks and there is no in-flight entertainment. Keeping it...
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