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Will Southwest Really Get Rid of Free Checked Bags?

Don't expect Southwest to abandon its popular policy of checking two bags at no extra charge anytime soon.

Although many industry pundits have been speculating about how much more revenue Southwest would take in by charging the standard $25 a bag, I’ve been speculating that Southwest might suffer more in lost customers than it would gain in additional fees. Happily, Southwes's CEO confirmed that suspicion: In a recent shareholder meeting, he said that, overall, dropping the no-charge bag policy would cost the airline a net of about $1 billion a year.

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Never doubt that Southwest studies the question intensively, along with the similar question of whether to impose change fees. And my guess is that, at least so far, the results show that the airline does better keeping its current popular policies than mimicking the misbegotten policies of the other carriers. I also guess that JetBlue makes similar studies—and I hope that those studies come to the same conclusions as Southwest's: People like the idea of a no-charge checked bag.

Although nominally classed as low-fare airlines, JetBlue and Southwest seldom offer substantial fare advantages over their big competitors. Instead, they succeed, at least in part, by being different. Both consistently outpoint the other airlines on customer satisfaction surveys, and their management teams seem to have made the connection between high ratings and consumer-friendly fee policies.

Let's hope it stays that way.

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