Brand Battles: Southwest VS American Airlines

I am in the middle of multiple long distance trips and (inevitably) I am noticing the stark difference between the airlines I am flying. I am a long time Southwest advocate and (probably) a first time American Airlines customer. The difference between the two brands is glaring. I took a look at how the two present themselves.

Southwest American Airlines Brand Strategy

SW
Bags fly free and everyone knows it. Somehow this is built into the logistics beneficially. Its very convenient for those who pack a big bag, but I travel as lightly as possible so I don’t take advantage of this often.

AA
Bags are $25 each to check. In making sure my bag was carryon size, I found the size limit to be pretty small. They are looking at this (obviously) as a good revenue builder. My bag was small enough so I chose to save my money and carry on. As I approached the gate, a worker asked for people who wanted courtesy check. I had never heard of that, so I asked what it was. She told me we could check our carry on bags at the gate and they’ll stow em for free. That is a brand signal to consumers that you have to pay for the bag unless you could get around it, in which case they’ll begrudgingly take it anyway.

SW
The flight attendants give an onboarding spiel that can be very entertaining. Many people come up with sarcastic quips that get slipped subtly into the process that give everyone a chuckle. They’re warm, friendly and lighthearted. Also they make multiple passes up and down the isle distributing various snack foods and drinks.

AA
Flight attendants have minimal interaction with customers. A video, which was very well made, explains the safety features of the airplane and the customary procedures. Attendants pass through the isle with a drink cart, but apart from asking for a drink order there is no real interaction.

SW
Seating is unassigned. One passenger asks, “we sit anywhere?” The flight attendant responded, “Yup…Just like church.” Its first come first serve (basically). You can pay a little more to board earlier, but the seats are all basically the same. The leg room is minimal. There are no bells or whistles built in. They are making room for other things.

AA
Seating is assigned. You pass by the more expensive and spacious seats in the front of the plane to reach the more crammed narrow seats in the back. There is more legroom (in general) than Southwest. There are outlets built into the seats as well as a port to plug in headphones and watch the inflight entertainment or tune to some music.

It is interesting to see the blatant difference between the two in the way they approach their customer experience. We see the brands extremely differently because of it. American Airlines uses their brand as more of a luxury with upgrades available. Southwest offers a genuine and no corporate nonsense approach. American Airlines may have advantages when it comes to non-monetary aspects, but the holistic perception of their brand doesn’t hold a candle to Southwest. American Airlines competes for an entirely different market share. However, being one who has an option to go either way, I would side with the crew who sings to me over the one that tells me to watch the instructional video. for more branding strategy goodness.

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