Why I Respect Southwest Airlines

I have always respected Southwest Airlines. That company does a lot of things right.

I flew back from San Jose to San Diego on Tuesday night on flight 255. I sat in the back of the plane, so I was one of the last few people to get off after we landed. As customary with Southwest, the flight attendants clean the airplane between flights. As the passengers deplane from the front, the flight attendants work their way back through the rows on both sides, rubber gloves on, with trash bags in hand. They pick up litter from the seats, floors and seat back pockets, and they fold the seatbelts so they look clean for the next group of passengers.

By doing this, I am sure, Southwest not only keeps the cost down by not needing separate cleaning crews, but they also have unparalleled turn-around time at airports. I have seen them land, deplane, board and leave in 30 minutes.

On flight 255 the other night, I noticed something new: The captain was cleaning the plane. He was working his way through the plane with rubber gloves on, chatting it up with the crew and greeting the passengers, as he cleaned the seats.

That’s why I respect Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines is Cheeky with its Credits

Let me start right out stating that I love Southwest Airlines. I respect the company and the employees, their innovative business model and their great customer service. The website works great. There is only one minor thing wrong, and I don’t think it’s an accident. It think it’s cheeky.

When you have purchased a ticket and need to cancel the trip, Southwest gives your “credit.” The money is available when you buy the next ticket. But it’s not tracked anywhere on the website. The website has a way to look up everything you might want to know about your trips, your account, your payment data, everything, except your credits.

When paying for a new ticket, you can use the credit you have from a previous ticket to pay for it, in full, or partial. But to invoke the credit, you need to type in the reservation number of the trip that was cancelled. The reservation number is the 6-digit code you get when you book a ticket, like MAQFFA. Once you type this in, it applies the credit from that ticket to the current purchase. But who remembers such a weird number? You would never think so, until it’s time to pay for the next ticket, weeks or months later, too late.

Recently I had credit from a large purchase and I needed to make a purchase of a much cheaper ticket. So I didn’t even use up all the credit. I just sort of remembered that I still had “some” money left over. As much as I fly, I don’t always remember all this from one trip to the next and I rely on the system. So I vaguely knew that I still had money left over.

When I tried to find it, and how much, it simply was not possible. I had to actually call Southwest and get an agent to help me. I still had a whopping $178 left, but no idea what the ticket code was. The agent told me that this was not anywhere on the site.

Why in the world not?

The only reason I can think of: Southwest profits when people can’t remember they have credits, and if they do, they can’t remember how to invoke them. Money in the bank.

It’s like a gift certificate that is never cashed. Pure profit.

I am disappointed. I thought Southwest Airlines was better than that.