I flew on Southwest Airlines to see how it compared to Delta and United — here's what I discovered

Courtesy of Southwest AirlinesI flew Southwest Airlines for the second time in my life in October.

  • I flew Southwest Airlines for the second time in my life as I travelled from New York City to St. Louis in October.
  • I came away satisfied with my flight and more likely to use Southwest in the future.
  • The plane’s cleanliness and entertainment options, as well as the ability to check my suitcase for free, were the biggest highlights.

As aeroplane seats get smaller and fees get larger, what once seemed like small comforts take on greater importance.

In October, I flew Southwest Airlines for the second time in my life as I travelled from New York City to St. Louis, six months after a passenger on a Southwest flight died following a mid-flight engine failure. The flight was like most others I’ve taken but had a few notable differences from United and Delta, the airlines I most frequently use. Some of the differences were cosmetic and others were more substantive, but overall, my flight left me with a positive impression of Southwest and increased the odds I’ll use it again.

The first time I flew Southwest, I was startled by its lack of seating assignments and unconventional boarding process. This time, I knew what to expect and was more attuned to some of the details I’d previously missed. While the plane’s legroom and seat width were average and below average, respectively (according to SeatGuru), there were a few parts of my travel experience that impressed me.

Being able to check my bag for free was a significant perk, and the seats were cleaner and seemed to be made of more comfortable material than what I’m used to when flying economy on other airlines. Southwest’s entertainment options were the biggest surprise, as the airline’s website offered a wide range of movies, music stations, and television shows, many of which were free, without requiring me to download an app.

Here’s what I thought of my second experience with Southwest.


My flight was at 7:25 a.m. on a Monday, so when I arrived at LaGuardia Airport a little before 6, I wasn’t surprised to find a nearly empty check-in counter.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

I was happy to find that checking my suitcase was free.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

My trip was about three-and-a-half days in total, which would have made it difficult to fit everything I needed in a carry-on bag. My suitcase is too big to qualify as a carry-on item, so Southwest’s policy allowing customers to check two bags for free (so long as they’re under 50 pounds and don’t exceed 62 inches in any direction) saved me a total of $US60 for the trip, compared to United, American, or Delta.


The security line was a little more crowded than I expected, though not unreasonably so.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

I was very surprised by how many people were on my flight.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

I hadn’t imagined a New York-to-St. Louis flight would be near capacity early on a Monday morning, though I later learned the flight’s final destination was Las Vegas, which may have explained the big crowd.


Since it doesn’t let customers choose their seats when they buy their tickets, Southwest uses a different boarding system than other airlines.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

After you check in, you’re given a boarding group and number that determines when and where you line up to board. Unless you pay an extra fee, your boarding position is determined by the time at which you check in for your flight.


In theory, Southwest’s boarding system sounds like an upgrade over those used by other airlines, but in practice, it benefits some passengers and hurts others.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

I generally use a backpack or small duffel bag as my carry-on item, so I’m usually not concerned about boarding early since I don’t need overhead bin space. That means I tend to avoid lining up before my group begins boarding, which often results in me being one of the last people to board my flight.

Southwest’s system provides people with my boarding preferences the opportunity to board earlier than we would have otherwise. But since your boarding position determines your seating options, boarding position is more important than on other airlines. If Southwest used a more traditional boarding system, it would be chaotic.

And for those customers who like to line up early to secure overhead bin space, Southwest’s boarding system might seem unfair, as it doesn’t reward their willingness to trade extra time standing in line for a higher chance of being able to put their carry-on items in the overhead bin.


When I boarded my flight, I was happy to find that a number of aisle seats were still available.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

While the seats on my plane, a Boeing 737-700, offered about average legroom and below-average width (according to SeatGuru), they seemed a little cleaner and made of more comfortable materials than what I’ve usually experienced when flying economy on other airlines.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

That isn’t saying much, but it’s always a pleasant surprise when any part of my seat warrants an even slightly positive reaction.


I’m 5′ 11” and had enough legroom to prevent serious discomfort, with a little room to spare.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The drink selection and prices seemed reasonable.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The flight attendants gave out both pretzels and Belvita biscuits, which was helpful since I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The most impressive part of my flight was the entertainment options.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Southwest’s entertainment options can only be accessed from a mobile device.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

But a number of music and TV options don’t require passengers to download an app. Instead, they’re accessible from Southwest’s website, which passengers can use without paying for wi-fi.


There’s also free messaging available to those who have iMessage or WhatsApp.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

If I had wanted additional internet access, wi-fi would have been $US8.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The Southwest entertainment site’s design was clean, clear, and easy to navigate.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

I was very impressed by the range of movie, music, and TV options Southwest’s site offered. And, for the most part, the streaming was reliable and the loading times were reasonable.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The site had over 15 channels of live TV.


The site offered a number of popular shows for on-demand streaming.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Though some required an app.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

As with live TV, the on-demand shows streamed reliably, for the most part.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Though at one point, the streaming stopped working …

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

… as did the in-flight wi-fi.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The site had a generous selection of movies.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Though, unlike the TV options, the movies weren’t free.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

The site also had a music streaming section that included radio stations and podcasts.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

It seemed useful for passengers who wanted to listen to music but didn’t have a robust library on their phone available for off-line use.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

I had no problems streaming music or podcasts on the site.


The site also had a travel guide tailored to my destination. I didn’t expect it to be terribly useful, but found it to be surprisingly focused and concise.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

It gave four recommendations for restaurants, bars, hotels, and sightseeing/entertainment options.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Though I’m not sure how many people are going to book a hotel after arriving at a destination.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Still, the entries for each category provided brief but informative summaries that can help travellers generate ideas.

Mark Matousek / Business Insider

Overall, I came away satisfied with my flight.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Nothing on or before my flight was noticeably worse than what I’ve experienced with United and Delta, and in some areas, like bag check fees, cleanliness, and entertainment options, Southwest excelled. While my standards for air travel aren’t terribly high, Southwest exceeded them and increased the likelihood that I will use the airline in the future.

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.