Southwest Airlines is one of the largest and most popular airlines in the United States, known for its low fares, free checked bags, and no change fees. But is Southwest a regional airline? The answer depends on how you define a regional airline and how you compare Southwest to other airlines. In this article, we will examine the characteristics of regional and major airlines, and see how Southwest fits into the picture.
What is a regional airline?
A regional airline is a general classification of airline that typically operates scheduled passenger air service, using regional aircraft, between communities that lack sufficient demand or infrastructure to attract mainline flights. Regional airlines tend to fly shorter routes with smaller aircraft (generally between 50-80 seats) than major airlines, which usually fly aircraft with 100 or more seats.
In the past, some regional airlines were known as “commuter airlines”. Major airlines, such as American, Delta, and United, find it more economical to partner with regional airlines for those shorter-distance flights between smaller cities rather than to purchase smaller aircraft of their own. Likewise, it doesn’t make financial sense for regional airlines to own larger aircraft such as 777s. Major and regional airlines work together to meet customer demands by bringing passenger air service to more areas than either could do alone. Without regional airlines, there would be hundreds of U.S. cities without flights.
Some examples of regional airlines in the U.S. are SkyWest, Republic Airways, Mesa Airlines, and Envoy Air. These airlines operate under the brands of their major partners, such as American Eagle, Delta Connection, United Express, and Alaska Horizon. They use regional jets or turboprops, such as Embraer E-Jets, Bombardier CRJs, or ATR 72s, to fly to smaller airports or markets.
What is a major airline?
A major airline is a general classification of airline that typically operates scheduled passenger air service, using mainline aircraft, between large cities or hubs. Major airlines tend to fly longer routes with larger aircraft (generally with 100 or more seats) than regional airlines. The Major airlines also offer more services and amenities, such as premium cabins, frequent flyer programs, lounges, and international flights.
Major airlines usually have codeshare agreements or partnerships with other airlines, both regional and international, to expand their network and offer more options to their customers. The Major airlines also belong to global airline alliances, such as Star Alliance, Oneworld, or SkyTeam, which allow them to cooperate with other members on fares, schedules, and benefits.
Some examples of major airlines in the U.S. are American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines. These airlines operate under their own brands and reservation systems, and use mainline jets, such as Boeing 737s, Airbus A320s, or Boeing 777s, to fly to large airports or hubs.
How does Southwest compare to other airlines?
Southwest Airlines is not a typical regional airline, nor is it a typical major airline. It has some characteristics of both, but also some unique features that set it apart from the rest of the industry.
Southwest Airlines operates a fleet of more than 700 Boeing 737 aircraft, which have a capacity of between 143 and 175 seats. This is larger than most regional aircraft, but smaller than most major aircraft. Southwest flies to more than 100 destinations in the United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. This is more than most regional airlines, but less than most major airlines. Southwest also flies some long-haul routes, such as Baltimore to Honolulu, which are not typical for regional airlines.
Southwest Airlines does not have any codeshare agreements or partnerships with other airlines, unlike most regional and major airlines. This means that Southwest operates all of its flights under its own brand and reservation system, and does not sell tickets or share revenue with other airlines. Southwest also does not belong to any global airline alliance, such as Star Alliance or Oneworld, which are common among major airlines.
Southwest Airlines uses a point-to-point network, rather than a hub-and-spoke model, to connect its destinations. A point-to-point network means that Southwest flies directly between two cities, without requiring passengers to transfer at a central hub airport. A hub-and-spoke model means that an airline flies passengers from various cities to a hub airport, where they can connect to other flights to their final destination. Most regional and major airlines use a hub-and-spoke model, which allows them to serve more destinations with fewer aircraft, but also increases the travel time and complexity for passengers.
Southwest Airlines has a distinctive corporate culture and customer service philosophy, which are based on its core values of LUV, fun, and freedom. The Southwest treats its employees and customers as family, and strives to create a positive and enjoyable experience for everyone. Southwest also has a simple and transparent pricing and policy structure, which includes no change fees, no cancellation fees, no assigned seats, and two free checked bags.
Based on these criteria, Southwest Airlines is neither a regional nor a major airline, but rather a hybrid of both. Southwest has some advantages and disadvantages over both types of airlines, depending on the needs and preferences of the customers.
The Southwest offers low fares, simple policies, and direct flights, but also has limited destinations, seat choices, and amenities. Southwest is a unique and successful airline that has carved out its own niche in the U.S. market.