Photo: Courtesy of Southwest Airlines
THE FEE WARS are still raging, and Southwest Airlines is fighting on. The discount carrier, which long stood out from America’s domestic-airline pack for rejecting many add-on fees that have become standard at other airlines, is embracing new fees of its own—but not the ones you might expect.The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the airline is doubling its fee for overweight baggage, from $50 to $100, increasing early check-in fees, and boosting bag fees on its subsidiary AirTran. But the most significant change is a completely new fee for no-shows—travellers who book but fail to make a flight.
This policy change seems bizarre. All airlines overbook, and count on no-shows to ensure that their planes fly full. But Southwest’s rejection of other fees—most importantly the flight-change fees that are standard at other airlines—changes the calculus for a no-show fee. Because Southwest passengers can change their flights free of charge, some have been waiting until the last minute to do so, leaving many Southwest flights flying emptier than the airline would like. The new no-show fee is supposed to be the solution.
Ultimately, competitive pressures may force Southwest to adopt the flight change and first- and second-bag fees that are common among other American carriers. But implementing the no-show fee suggests that, so far, it’s pressing ahead with its current strategy. The airline has even promised to eliminate AirTran’s bag fees when it finishes digesting the acquisition sometime later this decade. Now that’s a commitment to an unorthodox fee structure. To business travellers who want flexibility and hate flight-change and bag fees, a no-show fee seems like a small price to pay for the survival of this unusual business model.
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