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Southwest Airlines Made $642 Million From Something Passengers Really Don't Like. Here's Why It May Get Worse

Inc. logo Inc. 2/10/2019 Chris Matyszczyk
a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: US-CITYSCAPE-NEW YORK-LA GUARDIA© Getty Images US-CITYSCAPE-NEW YORK-LA GUARDIA

Still enjoying the populist vote?

This is the part of its business Southwest doesn't want to boast about too much.

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

And there I was, almost admiring Southwest Airlines.

Last week, I was moved by the airline's CEO Gary Kelly insisting that Southwest would never, no never, introduce baggage fees or a Sub-Cattle Class -- aka Basic Economy.

A few days ago, however, the glow faded, to be replaced by a troubling shudder.

You see, in a regulatory filing spotted by USA Today, Southwest quietly admitted that it made $642 million last year from, oh, fees.

Despite being the self-styled People's Champion, Southwest actually does perform a little nickel-and diming here and there.

There are Early Bird check-in fees, which are now charged at a variable market rate. There's something called Upgraded Boarding, too.

You can imagine, of course, that Southwest executives torture themselves about how the airline can make more money without enduring a populist revolt.

Its extremely loyal customers will, I'm sure, assume the airline won't try to sink into the bucket of fee-filled mire occupied by its legacy rivals.

Yet what do I see here? It's a Bloomberg article entitled: "No-Frills Southwest May Have to Start Charging for Some Frills."

The greasy types on Wall Street are noisily salivating at the prospect of new fees from Southwest.

There might, they speculate, be a higher fee for your bag to be one of the first off the carousel. Gosh, I hope they don't call that a Fast Baggage Fee.

There could also be a charge for priority screening.

Oh, and then something positively divisive. This is the idea that Southwest might push to create a real old-fashioned -- but diluted, of course -- Business Class. Will they call it the 1 Per Cent Class, perhaps?

Are you appalled yet? Please don't worry. There's worse.

Southwest might, say Wall Street's finest, make canceled tickets non-refundable.

Airlines are supposed to make huge profits, you see.

If you can't make them from your current way of doing things -- no matter how much your customers like that way of doing things -- there'll be pressure to debase your brand.

I wonder how bad the ultimate result will be.

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