Best checked luggage policy? Hands down, it’s Southwest Airlines

Airline luggage has been making headlines recently, whether it’s US Airways’ controversial decision to add a $5 convenience fee to some checked bags or Alaska Air’s luggage fee/guarantee. But which airline has the most customer-friendly policy when it comes to checked luggage?

If you said “Southwest Airlines,” you’re right.

Not only does the airline not charge for the first and second checked bag. But when something goes wrong, as it did for Amy Bailey, the airline goes way beyond offering miles, and even the Montreal Convention requirements for compensation, to make customers happy.

Here’s what happened to Bailey:

My 12 year old son and I flew to San Francisco on Southwest during his school break in March. It was a multi-stop, but no plane change, trip from New Hampshire.

When we got to San Francisco and retrieved our bags from the carousel, my duffel had a big wet spot and stank like jet fuel. I took it over to the baggage claim office and began a damage claim.

My rain coat which was packed inside also smelled, but fortunately I had packed everything else in heavy plastic bags. They handed me a loaner bag to transfer everything into and a trash bag to isolate the duffel while we filled out the claim.

After a couple of conversations, trying to get the bag cleaned, washing the raincoat in the hotel bathtub, shipping the still stinky bag to Southwest, sending all the paperwork, discussing an offer of a different replacement bag with their luggage repair company, then waiting which seemed to take an eternity — but really was only three weeks after I got home — I received an apology letter, a check for the replacement cost of my bag, my out of pocket cleaning, and shipping and a LUV voucher for $100 towards a future flight.

Southwest made a mistake, but did a great job fixing it.

This isn’t a fluke. Southwest did the same thing for me when it lost my luggage a few months ago.

All of which makes me wonder: How difficult would it be for other airlines to do likewise?

Checked baggage fees are a failure, from both a customer-service and arguably from a financial point of view. Why not drop them?

The Montreal Convention, which sets minimum compensation for lost luggage, is exactly that — requirements for minimum compensation. And tell me, what are redemption rates on LUV vouchers? If I were a betting man, I’d say less than 10 percent. That doesn’t cost the airline a lot, does it?

Point is, it wouldn’t be too hard for the rest of the airline industry to follow Southwest’s leadership. It would sure make customers like Bailey happy.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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