I have to hand it to WN. They came on the scene and "revolutionized" the industry (I use the word loosely) by cutting costs wherever possible to become a "low-cost carrier," and instead of being laughed out of the skies they created a playing field where the other carriers' only option was to be dragged down to Southwest's level. Flying was a totally different world before all the carriers had to worry about competing with Southwest.
These days, it's just expected that a 5-hour transcon flight during the dinner hour will feature a half-can of pop and a bag of peanuts, something that was utterly unthinkable before Southwest. Seat assignments are now a luxury at most airlines, and you either pay for the privilege (and pay extra to not sit in a middle seat) or you get what's leftover and randomly assigned at check-in, whether it's with the rest of your party or not. Paper tickets and classy ticket jackets have long since gone the way of the dodo, along with amenity kits, plastic wings for the kids, and all kinds of other loyalty-building items. Dressing up and acting classy for a flight went out the window during WN's "shorts-and-polos with a free comedy show by the F/A's" period. Instead of a rewarding frequent flyer program we get the hot mess that is AAdvantage and SkyMiles. Nickel-and-diming passengers for everything from headphones to B-o-B liquor is now the norm.
Sure you can pay for a lot of these things, but rather than paying $150 for a flight and not having to worry about being nickel-and-dimed to death your options when booking are a $100 stripped-down Economy fare that gets you a seat on the flight and nothing more, or a $300 Premium Y fare that gets you all the normal things you expect from a flight for twice the price.
Southwest became first not by being the best at what they do, but by dragging the rest of the field down so far that their subpar cost-saving measures now look perfectly normal compared to their competitors.
- WN’s competitors charge for checking bags to the point it has become a major revenue stream. WN has a business model that continues to generate a respectable net income (excl current environment) without charging for checked bags.
- WN does not charge change fees on top of fare differences, a practice and significant revenue stream of its competitors. The practice of change fees not only provides revenue it also generated ill will among customers. This is not something WN has to deal with.
- WN’s competitors’ customers WITH seat assignments line up in similarly defined queues because the bags they are carrying on do not have assigned space in the limited overhead bins.
There is an old adage in business: do a few things and do them well. Businesses that do a lot of things usually do a lot of things with mediocrity. That coffee house that used to have the best coffee... then they started serving tea... then added pastries... then added iced, blended beverages... then added grab and go lunches... then added fresh juice drinks... then added breakfast items. Now everything tastes bad and the place has the same vibe as a 7-11.
WN has worked hard to keep its business model simple and easy to understand — for employees to execute and customers to experience. Expectations are easily met and more easily exceeded.