Monday, May 26, 2014

All Good Things...

Photo Copyright Joe Pries
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was an airline that originated the idea of low fare, high frequency flights with short turnarounds for their aircraft on the ground.  For $25 you could fly from one spot in the state to another further away, round trip, and the service on the ground and in the air was truly superb, friendly, and they were happy to have you on board.  The ORIGINAL Low Fare Airline was PSA - Pacific Southwest Airlines, based out of San Diego, California.  from 1949 to 1988 PSA was known as the "World's Friendliest Airline", and earned that distinction on every flight.  During the original round of merger mania in the 1980's, PSA fell victim to an apathetic management that felt it was better to sell off the airline and keep the rest of the assets from the Holding Company.  USAir took over PSA and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, some of you might remember PSA, some might not.  But there is another airline that has claimed to the "Original" Low Fare Airline.  Enter Southwest Airlines, widely regarded as the darling of deregulation and falsely claiming to be the "Original" Low Fare Airline.  In the late 1980's and into the 1990's, Southwest could do no wrong.  Cities and their respective airports clamored for Southwest to begin service.  Once Southwest came to town, they didn't start with a handful of flights to one or two destinations, oh no, they came in with all guns blazing.  They would start 5-6 flights a day to several cities, usually 4-5 at first, then constantly growing as the loads developed and maintained.  This normally boosted a town's population and was a major source for creating new jobs in the area.  This was called the "Southwest Effect".  For years, this was how it worked, and Southwest motivated every single local economy it touched.

Lately though, it seems as if Southwest no longer has the effect it once had on local economies.  Since the iconic Chairman of Southwest, Herb Kelleher, left the company in 2008, and his successor, Gary Kelly has steered the company in a whole new direction, one more attuned with how the US Domestic Airline system is turning out with the latest round of mergers and consolidation.  Where once Southwest studiously avoided high-rent and high-traffic airports such as New York/LaGuardia, Denver, and Washington's National Airport, they now control vast amounts of traffic out of all three of these, and more cities such as Boston-Logan, Newark, and Atlanta.  Fares have also risen, for example,  I did a search from my hometown, Salt Lake City to Denver, one of Southwest's biggest cities, and a route that has massive competition from Delta, and Denver hometown favorite, Frontier.  I did a search at least 7 days ahead, and here's what i found:

Southwest's Lowest fare on June 9, 2014:  $230

Frontier's Lowest Fare for the same day and as close to the same time as possible:  $88.99

Delta's Lowest fare for the same day and as close to the same time as possible:   $150

By the way, Delta's lowest First Class Fare is only $10 more than Southwest's lowest Coach Fare.

It's not just on the Salt Lake City - Denver route either, look at the New York/LaGuardia to Atlanta route, a Delta stronghold route for the same day and same time...

Southwest's lowest fare:  $416

Delta's lowest fare:  $233, and First Class comes out to $371.

Photo Copyright Joe Pries
I rest my case, but Southwest Kool-Aid drinkers always use the "Bags Fly free, though!" mantra with me.  In First Class you also get free bags, and it looks like First Class on Delta is quite a bit cheaper or equivalent to Southwest's lowest fares, and you get an assigned seat.  or, if you fly Coach, its only an additional $25 for a checked bag, vs. the much higher Southwest fare.  I don't buy Southwest's gimmicks, nor do I approve of their charging for a second seat for passengers of size.  This is the biggest rip off in United States Commercial Aviation today.

Once upon a time, Southwest was the darling of Wall Street and cost-conscious travelers.  Airlines such as jetBlue, Allegiant, and Spirit (you could toss Frontier in this pile too) have taken over the lowering of fares nationwide.  RIP Southwest, you're just another airline now.

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