Southwest Airlines has a secret edge over American, United, Delta

Southwest Airlines has built its new advertising campaign around some of its core offerings that differentiate it from its rivals. The ads focus on how the airline does not charge for checked bags, and that it does not charge change or cancellation fees.

Those are differentiators in a market where airlines have become increasingly chintzy when it comes to low-cost fares, especially the ones marketed as “Basic Economy.” The rules vary by airline, but those low-end fares essentially turn full-fare carriers like Delta, United, and American Airlines (AAL) into low-cast carriers including Spirit and Frontier.

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Basic Economy fares don’t just not include checked bags, they often don’t even include a full-size carry-on. Many airlines will only allow a personal item, like a purse, and that’s just the start of the added charges. 

If you opt for these low-upfront-cost tickets, you will also pay for a seat assignment, and in many cases, you won’t even get free water, tea, or coffee. And, unless you pay extra, you will also board last, so even paying for a carry-on may not guarantee that your bag does not get gate-checked.

Basic fares on Southwest Airlines (LUV)  include bags, and the airline does not have seat assignments. It also does not have classes of seats as aside from exit rows. All Southwest seats are exactly the same with the same room between rows. 

That’s something the airline should be promoting, according to View From the Wing’s Gary Leff. 

Southwest Airlines has one major edge over its rivals.

Image source: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Southwest Airlines has more legroom

Every inch matters on an airplane. If you put coach, or main cabin seats closer together, you can fit more seats on a plane. More seats equal more revenue and that has pushed airlines to make decisions that don’t center on delivering a comfortable experience for flyers. 

“A seat’s pitch refers to the measurement of space between one point on an aircraft passenger seat to the same point on the seat in front of it. It’s measured in inches/centimeters, and the higher the number, the more legroom and space you’ll have between your seat and the one in front of you,” Going shared.

Southwest Airlines offers 32-to-33 inches of seat pitch, more than the 29-to-31 inches offered by Delta, American, and United. Southwest, it should be noted only flies Boeing 737 aircraft, while its rivals have more varied fleets. meaning that seat pitch can vary on the same airline. 

Leff believes this is a major advantage Southwest should have made the focus of its new “The Big Flex” national ad campaign.

“Southwest’s new ad campaign focuses playfully on no fees. It’s important to focus on no checked bag fees. No change fees isn’t a big differentiator – they should point out no basic economy,” he wrote.

“Yet the biggest miss of all: Southwest always fails to market that they offer more legroom than standard coach on American, United, and Delta. The number one differentiator for inflight experience, and the most expensive thing to offer passengers, is more space on the aircraft. Yet they never tell this story.”

Southwest Airlines has a seat controversy

Southwest Airlines showed off the prototype for new seats that will be installed on its planes beginning in 2025. On the plus side, the new seats will feature USB ports, something the airline previously did not offer, but the airline faced a backlash when they shared images of the new seats.

Basically, the new seats look uncomfortable. They’re made of a seemingly hard plastic and the social media reaction was instantly negative.

The airline, however, has pushed back saying that the images shared were 2D renderings that did not reflect the comfort of the seats.

“We developed the rendering because the actual seats had not been fully branded when we made the original post to announce our updated cabin plans,” an airline representative told Travel & Leisure. “The actual seats feature MORE cushion in the headrest, backrest, and bottom for additional comfort and a new material that’s softer to the touch and better showcases the foam technology in the seat.”

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