Southwest Abides

There are several reasons everyone expects Southwest Airlines to come out on top after the airline industry finishes imploding, not the least of which is some smart hedging on fuel contracts.

That hedging is typical of Southwest’s steadiness in a volatile industry. While other airlines are losing hundreds of millions of dollars and flailing desperately for revenue, Southwest continues on its even course.

That course is so even that flying Southwest today feels remarkably like it did 10 years ago. And that is, unquestionably in this environment, a very good thing.

And it’s not something any of the so-called Big Six legacy airlines can claim. They have lowered every standard — on food service, comfort, cleanliness and customer service, at the gate, on the phone and in the air.

This is not to say Southwest has not cut back, but the cuts have been less severe and far less visible.Passengers on Southwest still know what they’ll get: 32 inches of leg room in a single-class cabin on a 737. And they can expect reasonably cheerful, relatively reliable service, plus the right to check two bags for no extra fee. 

The legacy carriers, meanwhile, have been forced to cut and cut until they have become, like Southwest, no-frills, budget airlines. (Except up front, in first class.) But they don’t know how to be budget airlines. And they’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars while they try to figure it out.

Southwest is still making a modest profit, and it has $3 billion in the bank to get it through some rough patches. So as the Big Six merge and low-cost carriers falter, Southwest will be well-positioned to pick up their abandoned routes and their customers.

And that’s probably why there will be more Southwest 737s in the sky when this is all over.


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