While most U.S. airlines now charge passengers for checked luggage, Southwest continues to permit 2 free checked bags per passenger. Regarding last-minute itinerary changes, Southwest also does not charge any change fees; passengers are permitted to change their flight as late as 10 minutes prior to their flights, and only pay the difference if their new flight is more expensive than the original flight (or receive a credit if the new flight is less expensive than the original flight). In the event of a cancellation, passengers are refunded a travel credit in the amount spent on their ticket, and the credit may be used toward any other Southwest Airlines or Southwest Vacations purchase within a year of the original ticket purchase.
Southwest offers free in-flight non-alcoholic beverages and offers alcoholic beverages for sale for $6 to $7/beverage, with Rapid Rewards members eligible to receive drinks vouchers with their tickets. Free alcoholic drinks are offered on popular holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween, provided the passenger is at least 21. Southwest has complimentary pretzels on all flights, and most flights have free Nabisco snacks. Southwest is known for colorful boarding announcements and crews that burst out in song, which is quite popular among passengers.
According to the Department of Transportation (DOT) Southwest ranks number one (lowest number of complaints) of all U.S. airlines for customer complaints. Southwest Airlines has consistently received the fewest ratio of complaints per passengers boarded of all major U.S. carriers that have been reporting statistics to the DOT since 1987, which is when the DOT began tracking customer satisfaction statistics and publishing its Air Travel Consumer Report.
Prior to 2007, Southwest boarded passengers by grouping the passengers into three groups, labeled A, B and C. Passengers would line up at their specified letter and board.
In 2007, Southwest modified their boarding procedure by introducing a number. Each passenger receives a letter (A, B or C) and a number 1 through 60. Passengers line up in numerical order within each letter group and choose any open seat on the aircraft. According to a 2012 study by Myth busters, this is the fastest method currently in use for non-first class passengers to board a plane; on average, it is 10 minutes faster than the standard method used by most airlines of boarding from the back frontward.
A Southwest 737–800 with the evolve interior and old branding, succeeded by the Heart interior
All Southwest Airlines aircraft are equipped with Wi-Fi, free streaming live television, free movies, free streaming music from iHeartRadio, and free app messaging. After completing a testing phase that began in February 2009, Southwest announced on August 21, 2009 that it would begin rolling out in-flight Wi-Fi Internet connectivity via Global Eagle Entertainment’s satellite-broadband based product. Southwest began adding Wi-Fi to its aircraft in the first quarter of 2010. The airline began testing streaming live television in the summer of 2012 and video on demand in January 2013. As of November 1, 2018, live in-flight TV, movies, messaging (iMessage and WhatsApp) and real-time flight tracking information via Wi-Fi are available for free to all passengers, with full Internet access available at a fee for regular passengers and free to A-List Preferred Rapid Rewards members.
On January 17, 2012, Southwest introduced a plan to retrofit its fleet with a new interior. Improvements include a modern cabin design, lighter and more comfortable seats made of eco-friendly products, increased under-seat space, new netted seatback pockets to provide more knee room, a new fixed-wing headrest and improved ergonomics. All Boeing 737-700s and 115 737-800s have the Evolve Interior. Though not originally planned, because of space saved, Southwest was able to fit an extra row of seats on its planes. All Boeing 737-800s have the Boeing Sky Interior, which features sculpted sidewalls and redesigned window housings, along with increased headroom and LED mood lighting.
On June 20, 2016, Southwest introduced its newest interior, called the Heart Interior. It includes the widest seat to fit a Boeing 737 that provides additional space for passengers and also includes a new galley. The seat is being delivered on all new 737-800s and 737 MAX aircraft. All current evolve equipped 737s will be retrofitted with new bulkheads and bold blue seat cushions to match the look of the heart interior.
Southwest first began to offer a frequent-flyer program on June 18, 1987, calling it The Company Club. Unlike many competitors’ programs that were based on miles flown, The Company Club credited for trips flown regardless of distance. Southwest Airlines renamed its frequent flyer program Rapid Rewards on April 25, 1996.
The original Rapid Rewards program offered one credit per one-way flight from an origin to a destination including any stops or connections on Southwest Airlines. When 16 credits were accumulated in a 24-month period, Southwest awarded one free round-trip ticket that was valid for 12 months.