Southwest Airlines doesn't treat all customers the same and many don't realize

You go online, you look at the schedule and the fares, and you book, right? Well, in the case of Southwest it's a little more complicated than that. Especially if you're traveling on business.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Heart One? Or two-hearted?

Southwest Airlines

It's hard not to love Southwest Airlines.

Especially as it floods TV and the web with its heart-shaped logo and its strident commitment to humankind.

Sometimes, though, love can be a little twisted.

Over the last year, the vast majority of people were flying for anything but business. Sometimes for vacation, sometimes to see friends and relatives they hadn't seen since before COVID-19 began to do its worst.

Yet if you want to fly Southwest, comparing fares online is a little harder than with most other airlines.

Southwest, you see, won't do business with online travel agencies. If you want to look up the Southwest schedule and prices, you have to go to Southwest.com. Or open the airline's occasionally ludicrous emails.

You might wonder why this is. I wondered too -- so I asked Southwest why, at a time when so many are disappearing on vacation and want an easy online comparison, it's harder to do if one wants to fly the "love" airline.

I feared, you see, money might be at the heart of things.

A Southwest spokesman told me: "By utilizing Southwest.com and our call centers, customers can rest at ease knowing that when they go to book with Southwest, they're getting the lowest fare without any strings that online travel agencies might try to sneak in there, such as fees and restrictions. This is especially important as a low-cost, low-fare, high-quality airline."

In essence, then, it's about money. Or is it?

The spokesman continued: "Allowing a third-party access to our consumer fares and flights adds a new dimension that would erode our promise to our customers of offering friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. We prefer to build a relationship with the customer on their journey from booking to destination, and OTAs would change the experience our customers expect from us."

It's an interesting stance. It isn't just about the money. It's apparently an expression of friendliness and reliability. It's Southwest's way of building a relationship. Which, the dry of countenance might say, is also Southwest hoping that people will love its brand so much -- and believe it has the lowest fares -- that they won't bother to search elsewhere.

This might, though, remind someone of Apple's blessed walled garden that serves, according to Cupertino, as a guarantee of reliability.

But then I read this headline from The Points Guy: "Southwest wants business travelers and will double down on them as it recovers from the pandemic."

So do businesses also have to go to Southwest.com or the call center in order to secure friendliness and reliability?

Well, here's how travel site Skift put it, as it discussed the airline's alleged unhappiness hidden-city fare site Skiplagged: "The airline offers its fare information to global distribution systems for travel agency use, and has deals with corporate booking tools and travel management companies."

Which may leave some a touch confused. Or even unloved.

I may be naive, but travel agencies, corporate booking tools, and travel management companies all sound like third parties. Yet somehow they're able to osmotically transmit Southwest's friendliness and reliability where online travel agencies are apparently incapable.

Or, could it be that Southwest realized that many business travelers don't book their flights individually, so, a mere two years ago, the airline decided to bend its principles like a soccer player trying to dupe the referee into giving a penalty? (And yes, I'm talking about England's Raheem Sterling here.)

Southwest's president Tom Nealon told The Points Guy he sees a lot of opportunity for the airline: "The corporate-managed travel business is about a $10 billion business. That's just domestic coach travel. I guarantee you we are severely under-indexed against that."

Idealism, like friendliness and reliability, is a beautiful thing, isn't it?

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