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Southwest Airlines Review: Passenger Experience, Baggage & Prices

Southwest Airlines Review: Passenger Experience, Baggage & Prices
Nicolle Harwood-Nash
Last Updated: May 31, 2024

As a trailblazer in the American low-cost airline sector, and the largest low-cost carrier in the world, Southwest Airlines stands as a testament to innovative service and customer commitment. Transporting millions of business and leisure travellers annually, there's no shortage of Southwest Airlines reviews to delve into, providing insights into the quality of its service and offerings.

To save you time and effort, our dedicated team at AirAdvisor has assembled a comprehensive analysis of Southwest Airlines, based on a broad range of passenger feedback. Within this review, we shed light on the airline's approach to ticketing, baggage guidelines, in-flight seats and service, and safety standards. Whether you're an adept traveler or considering your first flight with the airline, this Southwest Airlines review can ensure you're well-informed.

About Southwest Airlines

Southwest airplanes on the runway

Southwest Airlines, a standout name in American aviation, originated from humble beginnings in Texas in 1967. Today, it serves countless passengers, bridging vast networks of domestic routes and select international destinations, for instance, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Southwest is tailored to cater to a diverse array of travelers, from those prioritizing affordability to those seeking a more personalized flight experience.

In the bustling airspace of the airline industry, Southwest has established an unmistakable identity. By merging great pricing and service with its broad route map, it has nurtured a loyal following. Like its peers, Southwest faces its share of critiques and obstacles, yet it remains unwavering in its pursuit to refine and elevate its passenger experiences. As we delve deeper into this overview, our goal is to offer a nuanced and informed perspective on what Southwest Airlines brings to the table for prospective flyers.

Based on the most recent AirAdvisor Ratings for 2023, Southwest Airlines has achieved impressive scores in various categories:

  • Top 10 Airline Overall in the US: Southwest Airlines has secured 6th position among the best airlines in the United States in terms of overall performance.
  • Number 5 Most Reliable Airline in the US: Southwest Airlines holds the 5th spot in terms of reliability among airlines in the States. To explore the complete list, you can visit the US’ Most Reliable Airline Rankings page.
  • Southwest Airlines is recognized as the 10th most affordable airline in America. For a comprehensive list of budget carriers and their rankings, you can refer to the US Budget Carrier Rankings 2023.

Southwest Airlines Rating by Passenger Reviews

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Ticket Purchasing and Check-in

southwest airlines ticket purchase website page

Securing a seat with Southwest Airlines has been streamlined for convenience, with several user-friendly ticket-purchasing gateways at your disposal. Whether you decide to use their primary web portal or their mobile app, you're met with a simplified system that lets you scout out flight timings, assess pricing variations, and lock in your seating choice.

Unlike many airlines with tiered classes, Southwest emphasizes egalitarian service, offering everyone a touch of its trademark hospitality. For those wishing to piece together a more extensive trip, the airline also extends options to arrange for car hire and hotel stays, positioning it as an all-inclusive travel hub.

Checking in is generally rendered hassle-free with Southwest Airlines. Starting a full day before your anticipated takeoff, you can finalize your boarding details, tweak seating arrangements, and choose between a paper or electronic boarding pass, all from the comfort of your cell phone. And for those lugging along suitcases, Southwest's designated counters at the airport aim to deliver a smooth drop-off experience.

It's worth noting that the online check-in closes 60 minutes ahead of takeoff for stateside flights, with potentially varying timelines for flights heading across borders. Given that procedures might change based on specific airports or destinations, it's always savvy to reference Southwest's main website for your trip's check-in specifics.

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Southwest Airlines

Airport Experience

The airport experience while flying with Southwest Airlines is, more often than not, a smooth process. The airline's check-in counters, distinctively branded with its vibrant color scheme, are typically staffed by welcoming and efficient personnel ready to assist with any queries or concerns. Many travelers appreciate the airline’s dedication to efficiency, with streamlined processes for baggage drop-off and digital kiosk services that minimize time spent waiting in lines.

Larger airports that see a high volume of Southwest Airlines flights often feature dedicated Southwest terminals or sections. These areas are usually marked by clean, well-maintained facilities and ample seating, making the wait for a flight more comfortable. Digital screens keep passengers informed about flight statuses, and there's often an air of organized calm, setting a positive tone for the upcoming journey.


southwest plane wing view while boarding airplane on front door

Southwest Airlines employs a unique open seating policy, which means there aren't assigned seats. Instead, passengers are grouped into three boarding categories - A, B, and C, with each category further divided into positions 1-60, based on their check-in time. Upon arriving at the gate, passengers line up according to their assigned group and position, ensuring an orderly boarding process.

This system, while different from traditional seat assignments, offers passengers the freedom to select their preferred spot on the plane, whether they prioritize a window view, extra legroom, or proximity to the exits.

While the system might sound like it could lead to chaos, in practice, the structured boarding process and the airline's clear communication help create an organized and efficient boarding experience. Of course, as with any system, there can be occasional hiccups or misunderstandings, but many regular Southwest Airlines passengers appreciate the policy and find it works smoothly most of the time.

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Airplane Interior

Upon stepping into a Southwest Airlines plane, passengers are greeted by a clean and well-maintained cabin. The interiors typically feature slimline seats, allowing for more legroom without compromising on the number of seats. The palette inside leans towards calming blues and earthy tones, evoking a sense of spaciousness and tranquility.

The seating arrangement is generally in a 3-3 configuration, allowing for easy movement down the aisle. While Southwest doesn't have seatback screens, they offer a complimentary entertainment portal accessible via passengers' personal devices, where one can enjoy movies, TV shows, and even live TV. Plus, there's onboard Wi-Fi available for purchase, ensuring connectivity even while cruising at 35,000 feet.

Seat Space

Southwest Airlines primarily offers a single-class configuration across its fleet, which can best be equated to what many other airlines term 'Economy'. This approach is in line with Southwest's egalitarian philosophy, wherein all passengers, regardless of the fare they paid, have access to the same seat type and onboard amenities.

However, while there aren't tired classes of seating, Southwest does offer EarlyBird Check-In, Business Select, and Anytime fare products, which allow passengers benefits like priority boarding. This can indirectly influence where passengers sit on the plane, given that those boarding earlier have a wider choice of seats, including those in the front or exit rows with a bit more legroom.

But in terms of actual seat design, configuration, pitch, and width, there's no distinction between different sections of the plane. They're designed for comfort with padded cushioning and adjustable headrests. Their pitch ranges from 31-33 inches (78.7-83.8 cm), while the width of the seats is usually about 17 inches (43.2 cm).

Southwest Airlines Service

instructions how to use southwest airlines in flight entertainment

Southwest Airlines is heralded not just for its unique boarding system but for its exceptional emphasis on fostering a warm, customer-centric atmosphere. Both in the air and on the ground, Southwest team members embody the airline's ethos of "Heart", putting people first and serving with kindness. Notably, the airline's provisions for travelers with special needs, from elderly passengers to those with mobility challenges, highlight a tangible dedication to accommodating everyone.

In the tech space, Southwest Airlines' online presence shines. The airline's digital platforms, including its user-centric website and mobile app, make navigation a breeze. From effortless ticket booking to real-time flight tracking, Southwest demonstrates a keen understanding of today’s digital traveler. And when challenges arise, as they do in any travel scenario, the airline's adeptness at transparent communication often turns potential frustrations into commendable resolutions.

Food & Drink

a screenshot of available drinks on southwest airlines flights

Southwest Airlines offers complimentary snacks and beverages on most of its flights. However, the length of the flight and specific offerings may dictate the type and quantity of snacks and beverages provided.

While Southwest maintains a streamlined approach to in-flight refreshments, passengers are often pleasantly surprised by the variety and taste of complimentary snacks and drinks. And, in a nod to morning travelers, Southwest offers some of the most coveted in-flight coffee, making early flights just a bit more bearable.

Additionally, Southwest Airlines' focus on sourcing quality ingredients and offering a rotating selection ensures that even frequent flyers find something new and exciting on their journeys. Attentive cabin crew often go above and beyond, ensuring that these simple refreshments are served with a touch of Southern hospitality, enhancing the overall in-flight experience.

Southwest Airlines Business Class

While Southwest Airlines doesn't have a traditional Business Class, their Priority Seating acknowledges travelers looking for a more seamless boarding experience. With the advantage of being among the first to board, passengers with Priority Seating can choose their preferred seats, potentially securing extra legroom or specific seating configurations. This early boarding also allows for easier overhead bin access.

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Flight Disruptions

Travel disruptions, including delays and cancelations, are an inevitable part of traveling. Southwest Airlines, just like other major carriers, isn't immune to such hiccups. Flight disruptions can arise from various causes, be it unpredictable weather patterns, mechanical issues, or directives from air traffic control.

When faced with Southwest Airlines flight disruptions, for example, a flight delay exceeding 3 hours, passengers might have certain rights and entitlements. However, they seldom include opportunities to receive money in the form of compensation for a delayed flight in US or the option to claim for a cancelled flight.

For a comprehensive understanding of Southwest Airlines delayed or cancelled flight compensation, travelers are advised to consult Southwest's official website.

For passengers wondering how to get reimbursed for a cancelled flight, the first step should be to contact Southwest Airlines' customer service directly or submit a refund request through the airline's official website. Ensure you provide all necessary flight details and keep your booking information handy for a smoother process.

How to Make a Complaint

If you experience a situation with Southwest Airlines that leaves you less than satisfied, the Southwest Airlines complaints procedure is readily accessible on their official website. This typically entails filling out a digital form where you detail the concern, provide specifics about the flight, and attach any relevant documents. Keeping track of all correspondence and having flight information at the ready is crucial for a smooth complaint process.

Navigating this procedure can be intricate and demands a thorough grasp of the passenger rights tied to your originating location. This is where expert guidance can be invaluable, particularly when seeking compensation. Our seasoned legal team at AirAdvisor is well-versed in passenger rights and can quickly determine if you're eligible for any compensatory measures.

Simply entrust us with your flight particulars, and we'll manage everything from lodging the complaint to liaising with the airline. Our commitment is underpinned by a 'no success, no charge' policy. Hence, you'll owe us nothing unless we manage to secure your rightful compensation.

Southwest Airlines Review – Conclusion

a southwest airlines plane getting ready to take off

In summarizing our comprehensive Southwest Airlines review, we recognize the airline's distinctive position in the global aviation landscape. The airline demonstrates an enduring commitment to its passengers, characterized by its dedication to transparency, efficiency, and that unmistakable touch of warmth, which stands out in an industry where true differentiation is increasingly elusive. From the streamlined booking process to its in-flight amenities, Southwest Airlines manages to offer a balance of affordability without compromising on the essence of a pleasant travel experience.

For prospective travelers, our in-depth review underscores a simple yet compelling message: Southwest Airlines offers a genuine promise of value. While, like all airlines, it's not immune to occasional challenges, its responsive approach to addressing concerns and its overarching 'Heart' ethos solidify its reputation.

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FAQ / Common Questions: Southwest Airlines Review

For individuals who need more information regarding Southwest Airlines, these FAQs might assist in addressing usual concerns:

Is Southwest a reliable airline?

Southwest Airlines is well-regarded for its consistency and trustworthiness. As a pioneering force in the American low-cost airline segment, it offers an expansive web of both domestic and some international routes. Over the years, Southwest has built a name for its unwavering service, punctuality, and safety-centric approach.

The airline boasts experienced pilots and crew and employs a fleet that's both modern and regularly maintained, all of which underscores their reliability.

Are Southwest Airlines' flights really cheap?

Southwest Airlines is a low-cost carrier known for offering competitive fares compared to many traditional airlines. Their ticket prices are often considered affordable due to frequent fare sales, promotions, and customer-friendly policies, such as 2 free checked bags.

However, ticket costs can vary based on factors like destination, booking time, and season. It's always advisable to compare with other airlines to ensure the best value for your specific travel needs.

How uncomfortable is Southwest Airlines?

The comfort provided by Southwest Airlines can vary due to several determinants such as the specific model of the aircraft being flown and the personal comfort thresholds of each traveler. Broadly, Southwest Airlines enjoys a commendable reputation for offering a comfortable and pleasant flight experience to its customers.

The airline's seats are designed with ergonomics in mind to ensure maximum passenger comfort. On lengthier journeys, Southwest Airlines often goes the extra mile by introducing additional amenities, such as blankets, pillows and eye masks, to enhance the travel experience.

Does Southwest Airlines give free water?

Yes, Southwest Airlines offers free water on all flights.

Can I take a 10kg bag on Southwest for free?

Indeed, you can. Southwest Airlines' hand luggage policy generally permits each flyer, irrespective of their ticket category, to bring onboard one piece of hand luggage and another smaller item, such as a purse or laptop case at no extra charge.

While Southwest doesn't explicitly mention a weight limit for hand luggage, travelers should be capable of stowing their bag independently and ensure it adheres to the airline's dimensional guidelines.

Regarding checked baggage, Southwest Airlines is known for its generosity, notably its policy of 2 free checked bags for most passengers, with weight restrictions in place. As always, it's essential to refer to Southwest's official site for up-to-date baggage policies.

Why do people not like Southwest Airlines?

While Southwest Airlines garners commendations for its services, it isn't devoid of critiques. Some travelers express concerns over sporadic flight disruptions, variations in in-flight offerings, or moments when customer service doesn't meet expectations. Other feedback might touch upon baggage management, seating arrangements, or the nuances of their Rapid Rewards program.

Has Southwest Airlines ever crashed?

Southwest Airlines has been widely praised for its safety record throughout its operation history. However, even the most safety-conscious airlines aren't immune to unforeseen accidents. In 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 faced a severe challenge when one of its engines catastrophically failed, causing debris to strike the fuselage, tragically leading to the loss of a passenger's life.

This incident was both rare and deeply unfortunate for an airline that typically sees routine operations. In context, Southwest has been in service since 1971 and has conducted millions of flights, making this incident an anomaly in an otherwise impressive safety record.

Moreover, the incident triggered comprehensive inspections and reviews, reflecting Southwest's commitment to safety. The airline has always been at the forefront of adhering to rigorous international safety standards, and its dedication to ensuring the wellbeing of its passengers and crew remains paramount.

Does Southwest fly Boeing or Airbus?

As of now, Southwest Airlines maintains a singular focus on the Boeing 737 series for its fleet composition. With 804 planes under its banner as of July 10, the airline boasts a robust lineup of aircraft. Among these, 773 are engaged in regular flight operations, catering to numerous routes across the country and beyond.

On the other hand, 31 planes are marked as out-of-service or stationed for various reasons. The diversity of their fleet encompasses models like the 737-700, 737-800, and the cutting-edge 737MAX-8.

Does Southwest Airlines cancel flights often?

Southwest Airlines, like all major carriers, occasionally cancels flights due to various factors such as weather conditions, technical issues, operational concerns, or unforeseen circumstances. Generally speaking, Southwest Airlines is known for its operational efficiency and typically has a strong on-time performance record.

This is with the exception of late December 2022, when the airline canceled more than 16,700 flights over several days. The initial wave of cancellations was triggered by a massive winter storm. However, the situation was exacerbated due to the company's outdated software systems, which turned an already challenging situation into a snowballing crisis.

On the plus side, in the event of significant disruptions, they have customer-friendly policies in place to assist passengers with rebooking or compensation.

Will Southwest Airlines automatically refund Cancelled flights?

If Southwest calls off a flight, they generally present passengers with choices: either transfer to a later flight, modify the journey while keeping comparable conditions, or get a complete reimbursement.

The course of action rests with the passenger. It's essential to note that these adjustments aren't instant; passengers need to reach out to Southwest to set them in motion.

Is Southwest Airlines food free?

Southwest Airlines provides free snacks and non-alcoholic beverages to passengers during most flights. If you're flying with Southwest, it's a good idea to have a meal before your flight or bring your own food onboard, especially for longer trips. Always check the airline's current policies before flying, as offerings can change.

How can I avoid Southwest Airlines baggage fees?

Southwest Airlines is known for its generous baggage policy compared to other US carriers. To avoid baggage fees on Southwest Airlines, consider the following tips:

  1. Utilize the Free Checked Bags: Southwest Airlines offers 2 free checked bags per passenger, up to specific size and weight limits (usually 50 lbs and 62 linear inches). Ensure your bags are within these limits to avoid additional charges.
  2. Carry-On Wisely: Southwest allows one carry-on bag and one personal item (like a laptop bag or purse) for free. Maximize these allowances, ensuring your items fit the airline's size restrictions.
  3. Check the Baggage Policy: Before flying, always check Southwest's most recent baggage policy for any changes or updates.
  4. Pack Efficiently: Use packing cubes, roll your clothes, and make the most of the space in your suitcase to fit everything you need within the allowed free baggage.
  5. Consider Shipping: If you're traveling with gifts, bulky items, or things you won't need immediately upon arrival, it might be more cost-effective to ship them ahead of time.
  6. Weigh Bags Beforehand: Avoid surprises at the airport by weighing your bags at home. If they're close to the weight limit, consider redistributing items among your bags or removing non-essential items.
  7. Join a Loyalty Program or Consider Airline Credit Cards: Although Southwest Airlines is already generous with its baggage policy, frequent flyers or holders of certain airline-specific credit cards might receive additional benefits.

The airlines’s policy of allowing 2 free checked bags is one of the primary ways they differentiate themselves from other domestic carriers. However, it's always a good idea to check their official website for the most up-to-date baggage information before your flight.

Where is the best place to sit on a Southwest Airlines plane?

Where you might consider best to sit on a Southwest Airlines plane can vary based on your personal preferences. Below, is a guide to give you an idea of where best to sit based on your needs:

  • Quick Exit: Front rows or exit rows
  • Extra Legroom: Exit rows
  • Smoother Ride: Over the wing
  • Near Restroom: Rear of the plane
  • Quiet: Front rows
  • Storage: Early boarding ensures better overhead space

For the best seat choices, check in exactly 24 hours before departure or consider purchasing EarlyBird Check-In.

How old are Southwest Airlines' planes?

The average age of the company's aircraft collection stands at around 12 years. In 2022, the average journey spanned 728 miles per flight, typically lasting about 2 hours. Southwest Airlines pioneered the introduction of the Boeing 737-700 in 1997 by being its first customer.

Does Southwest run on time?

The Department of Transportation (DOT) shared performance data for major US airlines, highlighting that Southwest Airlines ranked 6th in on-time performance for December 2022. Notably, this ranking doesn't account for canceled flights, of which Southwest canceled 14.6% that month, as discussed previously.

How to get a good seat on Southwest Airlines without paying?

Getting a good seat on Southwest Airlines without paying extra requires a bit of strategy, since the airline uses an open-seating policy and does not assign seats. Firstly, aim to check in exactly 24 hours before your flight, as this determines your boarding position. Southwest boards in groups (A, B, and C), and the earlier you check in, the higher your chances of being in the A or B group, which have the best seat choices.

If you have a Rapid Rewards account or are signed up for email notifications, set a reminder to do so. Travel light and consider only bringing a personal item that fits under the seat in front of you; this increases your seating options. Lastly, if you find yourself in the later boarding groups, consider sitting toward the back of the plane; passengers often fill up the front first, leaving potentially desirable seats further back.

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