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Southwest poised to become nation's fifth-largest carrier

It's not as if Southwest hasn't had its share of bad news recently. Remember back in spring, when Southwest's fleet was at the forefront of a significant (and costly) inspection-lapse controversy? And last fall, when the airline broke from its traditional single-class service by introducing priority boarding—for an extra charge? And while it has stayed out of the second-checked-bag fray, Southwest did add a third-checked-bag policy early this year.

And yet, through it all, Southwest remains seemingly impervious to the economic and public relations nightmares other airlines have endured this year. Passengers love the airline, and judging from the comments we receive, the SmarterTravel.com audience does, too.

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And now, Southwest is set to become the nation's fifth-largest carrier in terms of traffic, passing Northwest. Southwest would have become the fifth-largest carrier anyway once Delta and Northwest merged, but I imagine there's some pride in doing it the hard way.

So what is this not-so-little airline's secret? Certainly, clever fuel hedging has played a role, helping Southwest keep its operating costs relatively low. This has allowed the airline to continue doing business without adding the extra fees most other airlines have starting collecting. With consumers paying more and more attention to industry nickel-and-diming these days, Southwest passengers have taken note of the airline's lack of new charges and feel valued as a result. As a saucy new Southwest ad campaign suggests: Second checked bag: $0, tiny bag of pretzels: $0, an airline that doesn't #$*!% me over: priceless.

How do you feel about Southwest? Leave a comment below and tell us!

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