The Southwest Effect


The runway at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport is littered with the carcasses of airlines that thought they could compete for a little slice of Northwest Airlines’ pie. Nobody can drive a competitor out of its home turf better than Northwest. But one gets the sense that this time, it’s different. For one thing, Minneapolis St. Paul isn’t the home turf for Northwest anymore; Atlanta is.

Southwest Airlines is starting service to the Twin Cities on Sunday and — unlike many of the dearly departed upstarts — people have actually heard of them.

What’s more, aside from the fact it knows how to undercut airfares — and not charge for checked baggage — it also knows how to market itself. In fact, it may be the best-marketed airline in the country in addition to being one of the few that actually makes money.

Case in point: On Saturday, Southwest is holding a “tweet up” (a mixer) at The Newsroom on Nicollet Mall. The airline uses Twitter to communicate — almost as if it’s a human (It actually is a human, of course. It’s Southwest employee Christi Day.) It’s got 65,000 “fans” on Facebook, where it dominates the social networking scene for airlines by answering individual questions.

The airline is all about irreverence. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. A jet with a swimsuit model painted on it (photo) has been its latest controversy, dubbed the “porno plane.”

Will an aggressive marketing strategy allow Southwest to compete head to head with Northwest after the hubbub of its arrival fades? After all, remember Krispy Kreme doughnuts?

People have been bad-mouthing Northwest for years, then sticking with the carrier even when a competitor moved into town. And if Northwest matches Southwest fares, which they’ve indicated they will, will they keep the customers who are loyal to their WorldPerks frequent flyer miles program?

On the first hour of MPR’s Midday this morning, Gary Eichten will explore “the Southwest Effect.” Will it make a difference to you?

  • andy

    I plan on flying whomever will give me the lowest fare. If NWA drops the prices to match Southwest, I’ll flip a coin. Oh, I love the picture on this post. Nice work Bob!

  • MR

    I think my decision will depend on whether the Delta buyout affects how many direct flights there are. Southwest is mostly flying through Chicago-Midway, right?

    There are worse places to transfer through, but if I have the option of a direct flight, I’ll take it even if the fare is slightly more.

  • JD

    I’ve had such lousy experiences w/ NW, that I’m willing to pay more for SW, or Sun Country. How much? We’ll see… I think the direct vs. connecting issue will be more important, but I’m pretty fed up with NW, and am pretty clearly not the only one.

  • bsimon

    It is a ridiculous question. How can I ‘switch’ to Southwest if the only place they go, from here, is Midway airport in Chicago?

    When they start flying from here to places like Tucson, Reno, Salt Lake, Denver, etc, they might be able to grab a significant chunk of the market. Having one flight to a secondary airport won’t change the math for 99% of travelers through MSP.

  • Alyce Gambrell

    I LOVE Southwest having moved back home to the Twin Cities from Chicago after many years. They are a wonderful airline. Great attitude of all their employees, wonderful ticketing policies and reward program. They believe in their customers and treat them like they care! No baggage fees, no ticket change fees, (I’ve chaged one ticket several times), and you can use only half a reward ticket and use the other half at another time. Wait until you see the plush leather chairs and rocking chairs in the waiting area. Goodby and good riddance to NW and Delta on short hauls. They haven’t known how to treat customers in a long time – shame on them! They will really be in trouble when SW starts service to other cities.

  • bsimon

    I need to correct my conceptions. I talked to my father last night, who’s in Pittsburgh. He happened to check for Southwest flights from PIT to MSP, and found fares as low as $50 each way.

    I retract my bitter prior comments and move to the ‘I will switch’ camp.