Why Southwest Airlines changed its no-show policy a year ago


Southwest Airlines says its new no-show policy is working well. Photo: Southwest. 

Southwest Airlines says its new no-show policy is working well. Photo: Southwest. 

A year ago, Southwest Airlines changed its no-show policy. Passengers could still cancel their flights without paying the airline any fees. But to do so, they had to start alerting Southwest that they did not plan to take the flight at least 10 minutes before departure time.

Before, you could just not show up, and you'd get a credit equal to what you paid for the ticket. You didn't have to tell anyone. That was great for customers. But it meant Southwest had no chance to sell your seat to another customer. 

On Southwest's third quarter earnings conference call last week, CEO Gary Kelly said the rules change, which went into effect in September 2013, is already paying dividends.  

"I think most reasonable people understand the fairness of a no-show policy," he said, according to a transcript of the call on SeekingAlpha.com. "If I am not going to show up, I can at least give the airline that the notice that they have the seat back for resell. I got to keep my money and use it again. I think that that is eminently fair."

Still, he acknowledged there have been some complaints. While Southwest retained the most traveler friendly policy in the industry, it is not quite as generous as it once was.

"Most of the complaints I get from customers above that is they didn’t know," Kelly said. "They didn’t realize that that policy was in effect. And they don’t like it."

The good news is that Southwest has no plans to adopt a change fee. United, American, and Delta all charge a $200 to customers on domestic fares who want to cancel or switch their tickets after they book them. 

"Change fee is very different and we don’t have any plans to make a change to our policy," Kelly said.

He also said Southwest has no plans to add a bag fee, as almost every other carrier has done.