Southwest ‘plane-vertises’ its bags fly free policy

While some low-cost airlines don’t shy away from turning their aircraft into flying billboards, Southwest Airlines is using its most visible assets – airplanes and ground support equipment – in an innovative way to advertize its ‘Bags Fly Free’ policy. The airline has put a “Free Bags Fly Here” slogan on more than 50 aircraft with an arrow pointing to the cargo bin, and also tagged around 1,000 luggage carts across its network with banners that say “I Carry Free Bags.”

Aimed at anyone who looks out the terminal window or the window from their airplane, Southwest’s ‘planevertising’ initiative is a smart way to target people at the time when they are most unhappy about having had to pay bag fees.  

Meanwhile, Southwest says its policy not to charge travelers for their first two checked bags is paying off. According to Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly the carrier has gained about USD1 billion in revenue by taking market share from its rivals, for which the ‘Bags Fly Free’ policy gets most of the credit. Says Kelly: “We can’t prove it is the source of that (market share) shift, but what we can prove is the awareness. American travelers definitely know that we don’t charge for bags. […] We believe our record 2009 load factors and revenues dwarf what we would otherwise have collected in bag fees.” 

Almost all U.S. carriers charge around USD25 to check one bag and USD35 for a second. Low-cost carrier Spirit will even start charging passengers with carry-on bags from August 2010 on. In the first nine months of 2009, U.S. airlines made more than USD2 billion from bag fees, according to U.S Transportation Department statistics.

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