Let Us Now Praise Southwest Airlines

Seriously, is there any other way to fly?

I have a daughter who attends college in Boston. Two years ago, when we started the college search process, we scheduled a flight to Boston to check out a few schools. At the time, Southwest was not flying to Boston and USAir had the most convenient flights. We booked the flights using a combination of frequent flyer miles, purchased miles and cash, which brought the cost down. But had we paid full fare, it would have cost around $800 per ticket.

Outrageous, right? I figured it was the whole free market, supply and demand thing at play. That, and a monopoly on the route, adds up to some hefty fares to go a fairly short distance. Then, just as my daughter enrolled at a school in Bean town, Southwest announced flights to Boston and surrounding cities. In my daughter’s vernacular, sweeeet. [SIGNUP]

We’ve chosen Southwest Airlines for the several flights up and back since she moved to Boston. Amen, I say, I am a believer. Okay, so you don’t get to pick your seat and the lines to check in can be really long, but at least you know what you’re getting. Two bags really are free (I admit, I was waiting for the catch — like maybe they had to be square or not have zippers or some other glitch) and a ski bag and ski boot bag count as one piece. Really sweet. And the boarding system is pure genius. You get a letter and a number within a 10-digit spread so the largest number of people you’re posturing around is nine, not the hoards of people in Zone 1 who are all crowding at the gate to get on first. For a discount airline, it’s just so amazingly civilized.

It could be my imagination but the employees seem to be nicer, too. Happier, like a little kid with a really good secret that he’s just dying to tell you, or in this case, tell USAir and United and all the other major carriers. Once you get on board, there are free snacks, but the “big sell” is missing. You know, $6 for an itty bitty bottle of wine, $8 for a snack box, $10 for a premium snack box. Cash for a pillow, a blanket, an aisle seat, and then they hawk a credit card and in-flight shopping while you’re counting out exact change to open the bathroom door. (Well, maybe not yet, but I’m sure it’s coming… $2 for a number one, $3 for a number two.)

I had a cancelled itinerary on a major carrier and wanted to use it before it expired. After re-booking, paying the change in airfare, the $150 change fee, the “less than 14-day” fee and the baggage fee, I realized that I should have torn up the old ticket and thrown it away. It cost me almost double the original ticket to use the credit. Crazy, I know, but now I can be officially finished with the major airlines. If Southwest is flying where I want to go, they’re getting my business, two bags and a smile.