Southwest Airlines Review
Southwest doesn't charge for checked bags, changing flights, and many onboard amenities. It flies to nearly 100 destinations, and with about 3,800 daily flights, it's the largest budget airline.
Southwest Airlines is the busiest of the low-cost carriers we compared. With a fleet of more than 700 planes, it operates more than 3,800 daily flights -- more than the rest of the budget airlines combined -- to nearly 100 destinations.
The airline also sets itself apart when it comes to many of the fees commonly charged by its competitors, legacy or budget. Travelers on Southwest are allowed free carry-ons and can even check up to two bags without incurring fees. Likewise, tickets can be changed at no added price aside from the difference in fare.
Southwest is not completely devoid of fees. There are the usual overweight and oversize bag fees, as well as charges for a third checked bag, early check-in, and alcoholic beverages. Wi-Fi and in-flight movies also require payment ($8 and $5, respectively), but at least they are available on many flights and offered alongside free TV options. The same cannot be said for many other low-cost carriers. Travelers on Southwest can also pay $2 to use iMessage, WhatsApp, or Viber while in the air.
The seat pitch is 31 to 33 inches, depending on aircraft. But the seats are among the narrowest, at 17 inches (they may be wider on new planes).
Southwest performs well in consumer surveys and industry reports. It placed second among the six low-cost carriers included in the J.D. Power 2016 Airline Satisfaction Study. The Department of Transportation reports that Southwest had the lowest number of complaints among the airlines we compared during the first quarter of 2016. According to the same government study, however, Southwest does have more than its fair share of mishandled baggage.
On AirlineQuality.com, reviewers give Southwest an average 3 out of 5 stars for value, service, comfort, entertainment, and food and beverages. Some critics gripe about lack of assigned seats and being separated from family, or encounters with rude crew members, and there are comments that suggest the Department of Transportation's luggage-handling figures are not in error.
Nevertheless, Southwest does have some loyal followers, as suggested by its status as one of the top five domestic airlines chosen by readers for Travel & Leisure's 2015 World's Best Awards. Overall, Southwest is a top pick because it's low on fees and high on flight volume.