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The Southwest Airlines Scam

If you’ve been anywhere near a television, you can’t miss the constant barrage of Southwest Airlines advertisements with their “Bags Fly Free” promotion. Basically, Southwest Airlines wants to convince you that they’re the better airline because they don’t charge for checked baggage while other airlines do. I believe this is a marketing scam that is dishonest with the flying public.

Airlines have been under a lot of pressure to reduce costs and enhance revenue sources. Airline branded credit cards and frequent flyer programs are two examples of airlines enhancing their revenue with additional revenue streams.

As airlines struggle to cut costs, they know very well what the cost is for every aspect of a passenger flying. Several years ago I worked with someone who had previously worked with a major airline. One task he had was to analyze the weight of the in-flight magazines to determine how much extra fuel was being used because of that extra weight.

Airlines know what percentage of passengers check a bag. They know how much the checked baggage weighs and therefore how much additional fuel is needed. They know the labor costs to handle the checked bags. Basically, airlines know how much it costs per checked bag.

Therefore, airlines have two choices. (1) Charge each passenger for their checked bags or (2) Charge all passengers for a pro-rated share of all checked bags.

Think about food service in coach class. Many years ago airlines would serve a meal on many flights. Now they sell a snack box for $5-7 for anyone who wants one. What is more fair to the airline passengers, charge everyone for a meal or just charge only those who want the food? By going to a ”pay only if you want it” model, airlines have kept airline tickets lower. Or would you like them raising ticket prices for everyone $10 so everyone gets a meal?

Think about this: If you’re flying Southwest Airlines and not checking a bag, your ticket is still priced to pay for the checked bags of those who do check bags. Of course, if you’re checking a bag, then you’re only paying a portion of that cost because passengers without checked bags are paying the other portion of your checked bag costs.

Airlines also know that by charging for checked bags, passengers will make a greater effort to pack lighter. That translates to less weight on the plane and lower fuel used. Think about the environmental benefit of packing light when flying.

So are other airlines taking advantage of customers by charging for checked bags? Or is Southwest over-charging customers who aren’t checking bags?

Personally, I’d prefer to pay for only those services I use. That’s the most equitable way to keep prices down.

Customers should be asking Southwest Airlines why they’re hiding bag fees in their ticket price and making everyone pay for a checked bag.