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Southwest: ‘No New Bag Fees’

Last month, JetBlue’s imposition of fees for the first checked bag left just a single U.S. airline without such a fee, Southwest.

Which raised the inevitable question: Would Southwest succumb to pressure from Wall Street to follow JetBlue’s lead and pad its bottom line with the considerable revenue to be generated from bag fees? Or was Southwest’s commitment to its no-fees-here philosophy sufficiently heartfelt that the airline would ignore shareholder pressure and hold the line.

At least for now, the answer is, “Hold the line.”

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly reiterated his airline’s stance this week at the Global Business Travel Association conference in Orlando. There, Kelly was asked pointedly whether, in light of JetBlue’s move, Southwest would also add fees for the first checked bag.

Kelly denied that the airline had any such plans, and suggested that doing so would actually cost the airline, by disenfranchising Southwest loyalists. He clearly sees the fee-free proposition as an essential component in Southwest’s relationship with its customers. And with JetBlue’s policy about-face, it’s a consumer benefit that’s now unique to Southwest. “Who wouldn’t want to be the only competitor doing a certain thing?” he asked.

Of course, there’s nothing holding Southwest to that promise, and company policy can turn on a dime. JetBlue is a telling example. Until recently, the airline was also in the no-fee camp. And it boasted the most spacious coach-class seating of any U.S. carrier. But the no-fee policy is now history; and the airline has announced that denser seating is coming to its planes.

In the airline industry, the only certainty is change, and it’s usually not for the better. Southwest customers can continue checking their bags for free. Until they can’t.

Reader Reality Check

How long do you expect Southwest to maintain its free checked-bag policy?

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