LUV at First Flight

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Published on April 18, 2017, at 11:00 a.m.
by Clara Balestrieri.

As you’re sitting at your computer and planning your next trip, what do you look for specifically? Low fares? Layovers? Airlines? Of course, we take all of those things into consideration, but there is a story behind a certain airline that can help with your decision.

Headquartered in Dallas and known as the world’s largest low-cost carrier, Southwest Airlines just celebrated its 50th anniversary in March. The tools behind its success deserve to be recognized. From its branding strategies to its company pride, the airline’s popularity continues to grow.

Although there are many factors that contribute to the company’s success, the most crucial aspects are found within the business and public relations departments.

The business side
According to Southwest’s website, its mission is “dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.” Operating up to 3,900 departures a day with more than 53,000 employees, the airline’s business tactics are strategic.

As noted by Advance Business Consulting, “Southwest Airlines is probably one of the most striking examples of a company that defined a very clear and simple key business purpose, chose the right business model to support the business purpose, and consistently demonstrates the core values and behaviors derived from that key business purpose.”

Let’s rewind to 2008: After the United States’ economic turmoil, Southwest’s performance topped the charts. But how did Southwest do this while other companies were losing money and even falling into bankruptcy?

A 2010 New York Times article stated, “Initially, the company negotiated the spike better than most. It bought complicated financial hedges intended to mitigate the impact of high fuel prices, and gained a precious advantage over its competitors as oil prices soared.”

Another aspect that separates Southwest from other airlines is that the airline operates one type of aircraft, the Boeing 737. To put this into perspective, companies like United, Delta and American Airlines operate a variety of aircraft built by Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Embraer and Airbus.

Only operating one aircraft type can save airlines significant amounts of money. When airlines operate with more than one type of aircraft, it requires that they stock a variety of different parts as well as employ mechanics specially trained in servicing each of them. This is more expensive because not only do the parts come from several manufacturers as opposed to one, but they’ve also exponentially increased the support required to continue service.

Using one aircraft is beneficial for Southwest. The Economist noted, “Carriers that use one plane actually end up getting bulk discounts from the airline manufacturers.”

Photo by Kevin Dooley on Flickr

The public relations side
Anyone who has been to an airport understands how hectic it can be. Despite the chaos, Southwest appeals to thousands of customers with an impeccable customer service reputation. This is crucial for any company, especially airlines.

Forbes recognized Southwest for its customer service as “happy, friendly employees who go the extra mile to satisfy their passengers. In fact, for many people, service is the principle [sic] reason they remain loyal Southwest customers.”

From a public relations standpoint, that is a very meaningful compliment, as it exemplifies the culture Southwest strives to provide — giving its customers the best possible experience, no matter what length it may have to go to.

Southwest offers open seating — “once onboard, simply choose any available seat” — plain and simple! Depending on how close you are to the check-in time (even within a matter of seconds) is when you get assigned to A, B or C group seatings, resulting in how soon you can board the plane.

Photo by BriYYZ on Flickr

The airline has strong branding strategies. Its slogan, “Low fairs, nothing to hide,” is a simple, yet powerful statement that appeals to many people. I know when I search for flights, finding a good deal is always one of the main deciding factors. Speaking of nothing to hide, Southwest does not have baggage fees, as opposed to some airlines that seem to sneak in extra fees whenever it’s possible.

The company’s colors are bright and appealing, with a red, yellow and blue color scheme. Its shade of blue covers its planes, which allows you to spot its brand from many miles away. The planes also have big, striped (with the color scheme) hearts on the planes making them even easier to pick out.

CNN spoke with Southwest’s CEO, Gary Kelly, who explained, “The heart emblazoned on our aircraft, and within our new look, symbolizes our commitment that we’ll remain true to our core values as we set our sights on the future.”

No wonder the lines at the Southwest desks at The University of Alabama’s career fairs are one of the longest. As you can see, the airline has successful business and public relations models, both deserving of recognition. So next time you’re planning on booking a flight, think about that slogan and remember that low fares are far from the only benefits Southwest has to offer.

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