I just booked our family’s travel for the Christmas holidays yesterday. Yet again, I booked our trip on Southwest Airlines. In fact, it is looking like our family will fly nothing but Southwest on all of our travels for the second half of 2014 (unless, of course, we throw a last minute trip into the mix).
This also means our little guy will have flown only three airlines within his first year (+3 months) of life. He has flown Southwest for every single trip except our one combined Air Canada/United trip to Montreal. Our daughter, in contrast, had already flown JetBlue, Delta, US Airways, Virgin America, and AirTran before she turned one (see her flight stats here). Her first Southwest flight wasn’t until she was nearly two years old when we took her to Disneyland for the first time.
So what has changed so drastically in the 4 1/2 year gap between child #1 and child #2? We are choosing to fly Southwest a lot more, obviously! I think there are several reasons for this shift. Here are the reasons Southwest is getting more and more of my family’s business in recent years:
1) Family-Friendly Features
Southwest is undoubtedly known as a family-friendly airline. It is near the top of my list of best airlines to fly with kids. This reputation has become self-reinforcing: since families like Southwest, they fly it. And since families fly Southwest, passengers and flight attendants have come to expect to see little kids on their Southwest flights and actually make efforts to make children happy and comfortable. Everyone wins.
Southwest’s boarding process makes it easy to get seats together with your family, just as the process of getting seats with kids has become HARDER on other airlines in the past few years. Families with children ages 4 and under (edit: as of 2016, the rule is now 6 and under) are allowed to board between groups A and B. I’ve always been able to secure a full three seat row at this point in the boarding process, so I never have to be worried about being separated from my children or having to pay extra for a seat assignment next to my kids.
The more I fly Southwest, the more that I see that the little Southwest extras matter too. Southwest is the only U.S. airline to offer plastic tops and straw for the little drink cups. This small touch is so helpful in preventing toddler spills.
We also love how friendly the flight crews have been to our kids. Southwest flight attendants have gone out of their way to speak to our daughter, and our daughter has even been invited for several cockpit tours on Southwest flights – much more than on any other airline.
2) No Change Fees
Last summer when I was pregnant, I got very sick on the last day of a family vacation. I was unsure if I was going to be able to fly home the next day. It gave me such peace of mind to know that I could rearrange my return flight without change fees since we had flown Southwest. Luckily, I recovered (from what was a bizarre case of vertigo and not an actual illness), but that experience has remained on my mind. It is only a matter of time before a child’s illness derails one of our trips. The flexibility of Southwest’s process could very well save us some real dollars down the road.
3) Free Bags
With a family of four, we almost always have to check bags on our travels now. Bag fees can really add up for family trips. We love that we never have to worry with fees on Southwest.
There are, of course, ways to save on bag fees if you are flying other airlines. The most common way is by having and using the airline’s branded credit card. But it doesn’t make sense to carry a lot of these airline cards if you don’t fly an airline often. Annual fees on these cards are usually $80-$100 a year, so you actually need to be certain your family will fly the airline at least once a year to break even. And since we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly every major airline is an option for us. (If you are held hostage to a particular airline because you are based in an airline hub, however, I think it makes sense to have that airline’s card). But Southwest takes all of this uncertainty and gamesmanship with credit cards out of bag fees. You just don’t pay fees.
4) Service to More Markets
The major reason we are flying Southwest more is because the airline is going to more places we want to go. It has expanded a lot in the 4 years between our two kids. Now that the merger with AirTran is nearly complete, all of those flights are now Southwest choices for us. With family in the South, this makes our Atlanta flight options much greater. Southwest also recently started international service to some exciting leisure destinations, including Cabo, Cancun, and the Bahamas. And as a San Francisco Bay Area flyer, I was especially thrilled to see the news earlier this week about new Southwest flights from Dallas Love Field to both SFO and OAK.
With more Southwest choices, I suppose we will keep flying Southwest more and more. What’s not to like?
What do you think about Southwest? Do you often choose Southwest for family travels? Share your experiences! And be sure to check out my Complete Guide to Flying Southwest with Kids.