I was watching  this early ad for Southwest Airlines and thought it looked like a great airline to fly. But during my recent “adventure” on Southwest Airlines I discovered something that makes Southwest a little different that the rest of the airlines, flying standby is expensive.  In order to fly standby you have to pay the difference between the price you paid and the price of a walk up ticket.

The reasons make business sense.  If you were able to standby free for any earlier flight, you would book the Internet Special for the last flight of the day but show up for the peak hour flight. Here’s what would happen.

  1. The peak flight would have far more standbys than could be accommodated. Currently almost all standbys get on the first or second flight. With free standby, there would be chronic huge wait lists. At least until…
  2. Southwest would stop selling cheap seats for any flights on peak travel days. Then…
  3. Flights at off-peak times on peak days would have many empty seats, representing lost revenue relative to the current rules.
  4. The only reason the other airlines can allow standby for free is that their fares are essentially the same for all times of the day. Southwest gets more revenue and a higher load factor its way, keeping average prices down.

I might add that the “flat tire” rule (miss your flight by 2 hours or less) and the delayed flight rule (flight delayed by more than 30 minutes) still work but not always.  Occasionally, they play ignorant when you try and use these at Southwest.  I felt like I yelled “Parlay” in a sword fight.  Nobody seemed to know what I was talking about.

Keep in mind, none of the other airlines do it this way.  All the others have various rules but all involve a $50 or less charge as long as you leave on a flight the same day.  Perhaps they are offering this as a service and realize that the “book a flight and leave earlier” plan is not something most people do because of the uncertainty of not getting on your flight and having to stay at the airport all day.

There are a few other things that Southwest does something else different.  1. No assigned seats.  They rank you using A, B, C and you board the plane and it’s a free for all.  So when I bought a cheap flight and got C 55, I knew I would be last on and  sitting between the 85 year old man jonzing for a cigarette and the fat guy with two seat belt extenders.

When I asked 4 Southwest employees why the expensive standby and seating style, they all answered with the same answer.  To keep the seat prices down.

In summary, if you want the lowest ticket price, fly Southwest.  If you want to be treated like cattle with nice flight attendants and horrible everyone else, fly Southwest.  Otherwise, go elsewhere