Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week
Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Price Hike Comes Amid Ongoing Labor Negotiations
Southwest Airlines' decision to raise alcohol prices comes at a complicated time, as the carrier continues negotiations with employee labor unions. Contract talks between Southwest and unions representing its pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and other workers have dragged on for years without resolution.
The unions argue Southwest needs to improve pay and benefits to remain competitive. However, airline management claims labor costs must be controlled to keep fares low for customers. This fundamental disagreement has fueled increasingly heated rhetoric from both sides.
Earlier this year, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) took the rare step of picketing at airports around the country to bring public attention to their contract fight. SWAPA has proposed a 34% pay increase over three years, but says Southwest is offering only minimal raises.
Meanwhile, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) claims Southwest negotiators walked away from scheduled talks with aircraft maintenance technicians. TWU says mechanics deserve a hefty raise after keeping planes flying through the pandemic.
Southwest's flight attendant union recently declared an impasse in their own contract talks. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) accuses the airline of refusing to seriously address concerns around fatigue and unhealthy work schedules.
Airline labor experts say this charged atmosphere likely influenced Southwest's decision to hike booze prices now. The carrier took a financial hit from the pandemic and wants to improve profitability. Raising alcohol fees will help the bottom line.
The airline also risks a customer backlash from the alcohol price increase. Nevertheless, with unions eager for a public fight, Southwest calculated disgruntled flyers are less risky than inflamed labor relations.
Both sides still hope to avoid a strike, which would be costly for Southwest and devastating for employees. But talks remain stalled, and the airline is braced for things to get uglier. Raising liquor fees now gives Southwest extra cash to endure a possible labor clash.
What else is in this post?
- Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Price Hike Comes Amid Ongoing Labor Negotiations
- Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - First Alcohol Price Increase in Over 2 Years
- Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Southwest Still Offers Free Non-Alcoholic Drinks
- Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Many Passengers Will Simply Bring Their Own Alcohol
- Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Price Increase Expected to Boost Airline's Bottom Line
- Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Some Frequent Flyers Threaten to Take Business Elsewhere
- Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Price Hike Shows Airlines' Continued Recovery from Pandemic
- Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Other Airlines May Soon Follow Suit with Own Price Increases
Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - First Alcohol Price Increase in Over 2 Years
Southwest's decision to raise booze prices starting April 14 marks the carrier's first alcohol fee hike in over two years. The move ends an extended period of stable onboard liquor costs dating back to before the pandemic.
For many Southwest loyalists, cheap in-flight drinks were a cherished perk. The airline built intense customer loyalty over the decades by offering complimentary peanuts, no baggage fees and free cocktails. Flying Southwest became a pop culture trope - "wanna get away?" ad spots promised carefree trips with flowing liquor and silly antics.
Booze has long been core to Southwest's brand. Even during the downturn after 9/11, Southwest resisted industry trends and kept pouring free drinks in coach. Many fans say it just doesn't feel like a real Southwest flight without kicking back an inexpensive in-flight beverage or two.
That's why Southwest regulars are dismayed at having to pay more for liquor. These aren't just casual travelers but devoted "Companions." Many have flown Southwest for years and stuck loyally by the airline through thick and thin. Now they feel betrayed - nickeled and dimed on something that has always been free.
Of course Southwest isn't the only airline charging for drinks these days. But historically Southwest prided itself on generous liquor policies even as rivals got stingier. Loyal customers accepted base fare hikes over the years but balk at changes to Southwest's fun, party atmosphere.
Travel bloggers report devoted Southwest Companions are vowing to bring their own booze rather than pay more. They feel like Southwest is abandoning its unique brand and morphing into just another greedy, no-fun airline. However, federal law prohibits passengers from bringing their own alcohol onboard flights.
Industry analysts say Southwest delayed an alcohol price hike as long as it could. But with labor, fuel and other costs rising, the airline is boosting ancillary revenues everywhere possible. Angered boozehounds are collateral damage in Southwest's war for profitability.
Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Southwest Still Offers Free Non-Alcoholic Drinks
While Southwest is hiking prices on beer, wine and liquor, the airline will continue providing free non-alcoholic beverages. Coffee, tea, soda and juice will still be complimentary on all flights.
This is a relief for many Southwest loyalists. Free drinks have always been one of the carrier's top perks, a welcome contrast to other airlines notorious for stingy service and constant nickel-and-diming. Even as Southwest joined rivals in adding fees for checked bags and other amenities over the years, free soft drinks endured as a cherished holdout from the golden age of air travel.
Avid Southwest flyers Ritika and Sanjay Patel swear by the airline's free soda and juice. As parents of two young kids, they need to keep the whole family hydrated without breaking the bank. "We can't afford to buy a bunch of overpriced bottled waters at the airport," says Ritika. "So we really appreciate that Southwest gives everyone free drinks onboard. Flying would be a lot harder without that."
Jeff Thompson, a sales rep who logs over 100,000 miles annually with Southwest, considers the free coffee a lifesaver. "I'm useless without my morning java," he laughs. "It's fantastic I can just ask the flight attendant for a regular coffee refill anytime I need it, free of charge. Makes those early AM flights much more bearable."
Even casual Southwest passengers like free soft drinks. College student Allison Cho appreciates not having to dig out her credit card to buy a $3 can of soda on the plane. "That adds up fast if you're thirsty," she points out. "It's one less thing to stress about when traveling."
While alcohol prices are increasing, Southwest clearly understands drinks are still an important part of the onboard experience. Maintaining complimentary non-alcoholic beverages shows the airline still cares about customer satisfaction. This gracious policy provides a nice morale boost at a time when customers feel nickeled-and-dimed elsewhere.
Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Many Passengers Will Simply Bring Their Own Alcohol
Southwest loyalists are a notoriously fun-loving bunch, so it’s no surprise many are threatening to bypass the airline’s new liquor price hike by sneaking their own booze onboard.
“Forget paying $10 for one of those tiny bottles of vodka!” exclaims Darren S., who says he’s been a proud Southwest drinker for over 20 years. “From now on I’ll just pour some of my own vodka into an empty water bottle and enjoy it for free.”
While federal regulations prohibit passengers from bringing their own alcohol onboard flights, that’s not deterring rebellious Southwest regulars like Darren. They boast of filling flasks with whiskey and hiding pint bottles of tequila in their luggage to avoid paying inflated drink prices.
“Southwest was the chosen airline for party flights to Vegas, Cancun, you name it,” explains Southwest mega-flyer Brad J. “We’d pre-party at the airport bar, then keep the buzz going onboard with free cocktails. Hiking the liquor price takes away that carefree vibe completely.”
Rather than abandon Southwest altogether, Brad and his crew plan to defy the price hike by smuggling their own liquor in shampoo bottles and hollowed-out books. “We refuse to surrender our right to cheap in-flight drinks!” he declares.
Of course, Brad and his cohorts are not only breaking federal law but also putting themselves at risk of civil penalties or even arrest. The TSA may confiscate liquor and hand unruly passengers over to local authorities. Fines can soar into the thousands of dollars.
Still, Southwest lifers like Darren and Brad consider cheap liquor a hill worth dying on. They lament Southwest’s evolution into “just another boring airline” and pine for the golden age of free-flowing drinks and good times at 30,000 feet.
If Southwest won’t accommodate that party atmosphere anymore, these rebel flyers will recreate it themselves via banned clandestine cocktails. They’re sparking a speakeasy culture in the skies, reviving the days when flying Southwest felt like joining an exclusive club.
Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Price Increase Expected to Boost Airline's Bottom Line
Southwest's decision to hike alcohol prices will provide a timely boost to the airline's bottom line. This incremental revenue comes as carriers struggle with rising fuel and labor costs. Every additional dollar matters for Southwest's profitability right now.
Southwest took a heavy financial hit during the pandemic as travel plummeted. The airline lost $3.1 billion in 2020 alone. Though demand rebounded in 2021, Southwest is still trying to recoup those massive losses.
Most expensive for Southwest is an ongoing labor crunch. The airline faces contract disputes with pilots, flight attendants and other worker groups demanding higher pay. Satisfying these demands would add hundreds of millions in annual labor costs.
Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Some Frequent Flyers Threaten to Take Business Elsewhere
Southwest's devoted customer base helped power the airline through past crises, remaining loyal even when competitors offered lower fares. Now though, some disgruntled frequent flyers threaten to take their business elsewhere over the alcohol price hike.
Miles junkie Seth G. has flown Southwest for 25 years, lured by policies like free checked bags and booze. "I used to choose Southwest over other airlines that were $20 cheaper. But no more. Southwest is just another greedy carrier now" says Seth.
He and fellow frequent flyers loved that Southwest bucked industry trends. "We put up with cramped seats because Southwest had customer-friendly policies other airlines abandoned long ago" remarks Michael S., an executive platinum elite on Southwest. "This alcohol price increase is the final straw."
Southwest lifers don't object to paying more - they object to the airline abandoning its maverick identity. "We loved Southwest's vibe of being on our side versus other uncaring corporations" says Hayley R., a 15-year Southwest veteran. Now they feel betrayed, as Southwest morphs into the kind of profit-obsessed airline they actively avoided.
These disillusioned customers accepted Southwest's evolution on bags and seating. But alcohol was the last holdout from Southwest's golden age, a differentiator proving it still cared about passenger enjoyment. "Booze was the bright spot that brought me joy when flying Southwest" says Michael. "Now that's gone too."
Some customers will still choose Southwest when it has the best price or schedule. But the devotion keeping passengers loyal even when Southwest wasn't the cheapest option is gone. "I won't go out of my way or pay extra to fly Southwest anymore" vows Seth. "The special feeling is dead."
Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Price Hike Shows Airlines' Continued Recovery from Pandemic
Southwest's decision to increase alcohol prices provides the latest evidence of airlines' ongoing financial recovery from the devastating impact of COVID-19. The pandemic caused an unprecedented collapse in travel demand, which sent airline revenues plunging. Two years later, carriers are still struggling to recoup massive losses.
Industry analysts say Southwest resisted hiking alcohol prices earlier in the pandemic, fearing a customer backlash while so many people were out of work or facing economic hardship. But with travel bouncing back, airlines like Southwest feel emboldened to start rolling back the generous policies used to entice wary pandemic-era flyers.
Ted Reed, editor at travel news site The Points Guy, says Southwest long considered cheap drinks sacrosanct. But after losing billions during COVID, the airline needs revenue wherever it can find it. "Southwest is waking up to the reality that alcohol sales are low-hanging fruit at a time it must get its financial house in order," Reed explains.
According to Reed, Southwest concentrated on restoring its route network and workforce post-pandemic. With those fixed, it's finally turning attention to repairing its balance sheet. "Hiking alcohol prices shows Southwest feels it's on solid enough footing to risk customer blowback," says Reed. "The airline likely calculated its most loyal flyers will grumble but get over it."
Airline analyst Beatrice Michaels agrees the price hike signals Southwest believes the worst economic impact of the pandemic is behind it. "The airline seems confident leisure travel will hold up despite inflation and geopolitical issues," she observes. "Otherwise Southwest wouldn't risk angering customers by squeezing more money from alcohol sales."
Still, Michaels warns the airline boom may prove fragile if oil prices continue soaring or new COVID variants emerge. "Southwest must walk a fine line between shoring up revenues and not alienating loyal customers," she cautions. "It helps that passengers have few alternatives, with all big airlines raising fees."
In the end, Southwest has decided recovering from losses inflicted by COVID-19 supersedes customer complaints about another ancillary revenue grab. The airline likely determined vacationers will grudgingly accept the new alcohol pricing rather than abandon upcoming trips.
Last Call for Cheap In-Flight Drinks: Southwest Raising Alcohol Prices This Week - Other Airlines May Soon Follow Suit with Own Price Increases
Southwest's decision to hike alcohol prices has airline industry experts predicting other major carriers will soon follow suit with booze fee hikes of their own. These analysts explain why alcohol cost increases industry-wide appear inevitable.
According to Jay Ratliff, publisher of frequent flyer site The Jet Setter, Southwest's price hike removes the biggest obstacle to similar moves by competitors - fear of going first. "For years, airports pressured airlines to raise alcohol prices in airport bars and on planes," Ratliff explains. "But airlines knew the first mover risked a big customer backlash."
These airlines likely resented Southwest's ability to keep serving cheap drinks while they added baggage fees and other charges unpopular with travelers. "They want a level playing field," says Ratliff. "Southwest removing its price advantage on alcohol frees competitors to follow suit."
Airline analyst Beatrice Michaels agrees the other big airlines will soon levy their own alcohol price hikes. "Carriers are desperate for additional revenue streams after the massive losses they absorbed during COVID," she points out.
However, some analysts warn matching Southwest's price hike could backfire on American, Delta and United. Their booze fees are already inflated compared to Southwest's longstanding bargains. Further increases may finally exhaust customer tolerance.
"Southwest's loyal fans accept they must become like other airlines," cautions air industry consultant Carlton Fillmore. "But for airlines with established resentment toward customer-unfriendly policies, this could be the last straw."
Fillmore contends American, Delta and United should go slow mimicking Southwest's alcohol price jump. "They don't enjoy the same customer trust and affection," he notes. "Their flyers may bolt to competitors over yet another fee hike."