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Southwest Airlines

Refusal to rob passengers separates Southwest from the rest of the herd

RICHARD NEWMAN  Jan 20, 2010

One way Southwest Airlines differentiates itself is by charging much less for handling passengers' bags.

Dallas-based Southwest allows passengers to check in up to two bags for free.

The airline's marketing efforts received a boost last week when several major network carriers boosted their bag fees. On Monday, AMR Corp.'s American Airlines boosted its fees for checking bags by $5. The charge for a first checked bag will be $25, and a second piece will be $35. On Friday, United Airlines raised its fees by $5 to $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second, matching similar increases by Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines.

The timing seemed particularly fortuitous for Southwest, as its "bags fly free" ad campaign, which started in June, ramps up with numerous time slots during National Football League playoff games. "The campaign has been very well received," said Melanie Mahaffey, spokeswoman for GSD&M Idea City, the Austin, Texas, advertising company that produced the commercials.

(One ad that aired Sunday during the Jets-Chargers game showed rugged airline ramp workers getting teary-eyed as they watch a plane take off carrying bags they loaded. The ad used Southwest ramp workers, not actors, Mahaffey said.)

The ad campaign "has earned us new customers," said Paul Flaningan, a Southwest spokesman. "And when the economy rebounds, we will be well-positioned because people will remember us as the one that wasn't trying to nickel-and-dime our customers."

To be sure, Southwest, which lost more than $50 million in the first nine months of last year, has an appetite for fee income as it showed last year when it added a $25 unaccompanied minor fee and a $75 fee for hauling small, caged pets, a new service. It also doubled its fee for checking a third bag, to $50 from $25. But fees for first and second bags are not under consideration, Flaningan said.

Refusal to rob passengers separates Southwest from the rest of the herd
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