Southwest Planes Get “Bags Fly Free” Tattoo To Prove the Airline is Serious

Baggage, Southwest

When it comes to bag fees, Southwest is always fighting an uphill battle. Yes, customers love the fact that they don’t charge fees for the first two checked bags, but those pesky Wall Street-types have long believed that they’re leaving money on the table. Now, Southwest is committing itself even more by getting a tattoo. Seriously. (Sort of.)

The rumors have long been out there that Southwest would have to give in and start charging bag fees. For the longest time, Southwest said it was the right thing to do, but the airline didn’t promote it much and couldn’t really show any gain. In recent months, the marketing team has really ramped up the Bags Fly Free campaign to beat it into people, and it’s worked. Southwest now says it has gained share, and its stellar unit revenue gains shows some real strength. Much of this is from better scheduling, but, I think the halo off the marketing campaign has undoubtedly helped.

Now, like a teenager who wants to prove his commitment to something, Southwest has decided to get a tattoo showing that it remains even more committed than ever. Take a look:


That’s right. At least 50 airplanes will get this decal (ok, so it’s not really permanent) with an arrow pointing to the belly promoting free bags. There will also be 1,000 bag carts to remind people that bags fly free. (Fortunately, the shirtless dudes will not be deployed to every airport.)

I like this move. It’s cheap and easy advertising that hits people right when they’re angriest. Sure, at places like Dallas/Love and Chicago/Midway where Southwest nearly has a monopoly, there won’t be very many people on other airlines who will see this, but at all the other airports in the system, it will target anyone who looks out the terminal window or the window from their airplane.

For many people, that’s the time when they are most unhappy about having had to pay bag fees, because it’s fresh in their minds. So something like this can have more of an impact at that point. Whether it turns into more business for Southwest is unclear, but does it really matter? This isn’t an expensive campaign and it certainly helps hammer home the airline’s commitment to its promise.

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21 comments on “Southwest Planes Get “Bags Fly Free” Tattoo To Prove the Airline is Serious

  1. Cranky: how sustainable do you think this is, in the long term? Can they really afford it in relation to the competition and their overall costs?

    1. Well, apparently they think they can afford it. It’s a good differentiator that gives them a ton of positive press. They seem to be able to justify it internally.

  2. Robert,

    Airlines are generally a commodity business. Southwest used to have a huge fare advantage that differentiated themselves from the competition. Now with their costs being much closer to the competition’s, this is their new way of differentiating themselves. This point of difference seems to be working, as market share has shifted. So, I would say they can’t afford to go away from it.

  3. If it works, keep at it.

    However, share is still meaningless, if you’re filling your planes with fares that sink too low.

    If oil continues to slip, it’ll be interesting to see if SWA’s vaunted fuel hedges come back to bite them again.

    1. They haven’t had a fuel advantage for a long time now. And Southwest isn’t just seeing increased share, but they’re seeing huge revenue increases as well.

  4. This does nothing for me.

    I check a bag flying domestically maybe once every 3 years — nevermind the fact that WN doesn’t serve a lot of destinations I need to go.

    What I *do* like is the no change fee, but I’ve noticed that Southwest’s fares are higher than others now, so that’s more of a gamble than anything else. I would prefer they charge for bags and lower their fares.

    1. I’m in the same boat. I’ve only checked bags when returning from int’l trips. Anything import. If I plan to travel with something large or important I’ll visit a Mail Boxes etc. and have it sent back home.

      But in an very alternative universe I have a wife and there kids headed to Disneyworld, in which case I’d be very pleased to save the $100+ I’d spend RT on 2-4 bags. (Or however much it is now…)

  5. I wonder how long it will take before someone checking in a number of bags that they would be charged for starts a fight saying “It says bags fly free”.

    So which carts carry the bags I paid for? That should be a good question also…lol

    WN has been in business a very long time now so their costs are higher which does put them closer to the other big boys. So if their fares are higher and closer to the majors then they can still take bags free and still to better then the majors who’s costs are hight yet I would think.

    Is WN starting to be lumped together with AA, UA, DL, CO? Guess that shows you’re getting old and not considered a mover and a shaker in the biz anymore.

    1. Well, as the largest passenger carrier within the US, I think Southwest is being compared to the legacy carriers. But while Southwest’s labor costs are now higher, the rest of their costs are much lower.

  6. When I read this post title I actually expected it to be about a Southwest associate or marketing person actually getting a tattoo. Given the corporate zest and extreme ways of marketing I wouldn’t be at all surprised to read it.

    1. I seem to remember that Herb Kelleher actually has a Southwest tattoo that featured prominently in one of their old advertising campaigns :-).

  7. I love Southwest… true their fares are often higher but being jerked around with all the add on fee’s by the others makes them stand out. I never carry a bag on the plane. It slows down boarding and exiting. I also love that all of their seats are leather. Much more comfortable. Delta had a great product with Song and blew it. Jetblue is also very good… but the others , particularly Airtran I avoid.
    Keep it up southwest u have won us over

  8. Re: all those that “never” check a bag. While for business traveling I operate the same, for leisure travel of 1+ weeks, it becomes difficult to carry on everything. Virtually impossible for my wife to do so for more than a couple day trip unless we plan on buying $100’s worth of hair care and other “liquids” at our destination negating the whole bag fee.

    Over Christmas we spent 2 weeks visiting the in-laws in Canada and had to check 2 bags. (BTW, DL now considers Canada “domestic” per gate agent when we were surprised by the new fee on int’l route – grrr!) For the two of us that quickly added about $100 to our trip, or over 10% of the total R/T fare. For a cheaper dometic fare that fee can be a massive % portion of your total fare.

    Problem is that WN has an uphill battle to remind people that although their fare *might* be a couple bucks more, those bag fees make them an easy winner of overall lowest fare. I think they got a good plan here of marketing to those saps in the terminal that just got stung by that fee and its fresh on their minds. Now if only they’d fly across that 49th parallel….

  9. are the shirtless dudes taking a cue from Air New Zealand with their no hidden extras campaign..

    Talking of which, have you been following the Air NZ/Virgin Blue tie up/rationalisation ( and

    This has been accompanied by alterations to Trans Tasman(Aust-NZ) and Pacific Island flights. Air NZ is replacing their Economy and Business products with four ECONOMY options:

    # Seat
    # Seat + Bag
    # The Works
    # Works Deluxe (aka as Business)
    Its an interesting and some would say risky strategy– many people are feeling its a downgrade to match Virgin Blue.

  10. Southwest gets it. The other airlines don’t

    Go to the WN website. The first thing you see is “The Southwest Difference.” Go to “Bags Fly Free.” See their baggage policy. “Terms and conditions” Eleven words, that’s 11 words! On something that affects every traveler.

    Compare that with UA for example, and its website. They highlight something called “Low Fare Guarantee.” Read the rules and conditions. Assuming you have several hours to kill. Those without law degrees might as well forget it. I wonder if anyone on earth has ever successful gotten anything from UA on the basis of those terms and conditions. [UA says, no doubt, “No one! See, it works!”] A company that really doesn’t get it!

  11. Southwest is fine, but not cheaper anymore and not more convenient. You often have to make stops and change planes. The lack of assigned seating is a problem, but I understand the model. It helps them turn an aircraft faster.
    Airlines make money on fees. We may not like it, but I don’t like many fees that are now added to “service”. It is here to stay. Delta now allows free bags to be checked when you use Gold AMex card, but they get money from the deal overall.

  12. The Southwest values of ‘bags fly free” (BFF!) plus no change fees, plus easiest to use website, plus unexpected customer service, plus the most friendly Flight Attendants, plus better / roomier seats, plus no seat-fee games, have combined to make WN my BFFF (best flying friend forever). No, I’m not a WN employee, and yes, you can find lower fares to WN destinations. However, the vast majority of the time, their fares are competitive if not lower and the ‘wanna getaway’ fares frequently blow away the other guys!

    Nintey percent of the time I fly on business and prefer an aisle seat. I too had concerns about the WN boarding system, but having 32 flight segments in the last year, there may have been one occasion when I didn’t get an aisle. I too don’t check bags whenever possible for all the obvious reasons, but when I do want to drag my golf clubs along on business, or when I go on vacation, family visit’s etc., I love avoiding bag fees. I also love avoiding the annoying economy seat assignment policies of United and Delta (others?) which frequently prevent 24 hour advance seat selection/assignment while they try to upsell their “plus” seats. Those of you who pay that upgrade fee are often sitting next to someone who didn’t pay it because they couldn’t sell the upgrade to everyone and have to seat people somewhere.

    Look, no one flying solution will fit all the people all the time, nor will it always be the lowest cost. But within my company’s restrictive flying policy, if Southwest is an option, its a no brainer for this Denver flyer. Hopefully they can maintain their current position while all the others stumble over each other to find was to PO their customers.

  13. this may be a reeellly lame question Mr. Cranky but, if we, the flying public, are the airlines bread and butter then, why do they treat us like s*#%t????
    I would rather not fly anymore than get treated like livestock ready for the slaughter.
    I just returned from a 6.5 hour trip to San Francisco muttering, once again, NEVER AGAIN, NEVER AGAIN.
    Charging for bags. Give me a break. What if people just decided not to fly!!! What then would the airlines do?
    Keep your fees and your stinking postage stamp size seats.

    1. Well Cherly S. the public will never stop flying, it may slow down if fares get to high and it thinks keeping getting worse short haul travel may return to the car, bus or train. But the airlines need to remember the old saying “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.

      And if you are being treated badly on a flight you can’t even say anything to the F/A as you’ll find yourself arrested when you land.

      It would be interesting to see how nice flight crews would be if they were ‘tipped’ by the passenger for service provided like in a restaurant.

      I saw we should all do what we can to thank a F/A for good service and write to the airline to let them know and give the F/A or any workers name. But if you noticed on flights it doesn’t always seem that F/A’s have a name tag on.

    2. Well, if people decided not to fly, then they’d have to rethink their revenue model. But people continue to fly so they’ll just keep pushing ahead with this stuff.

  14. Their “bags fly free” campaign is brilliant.

    In effect, they’re using it to lull customers away from those airlines that charge.

    They’re profiting from the fact that they’re not profiting (off of bags).

    It’s pure marketing genius.

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