Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 17,000 flights and lost about $800 million in December in what can only be described as a disaster of a holiday season.
Money expert Clark Howard was one of the millions of Americans impacted by the chaos brought on by severe weather, staff shortages and outdated software.
The cancellations created a nightmare travel situation for many. Clark’s epic attempt to get back to Atlanta seemed more like an over-the-top, not-very-believable Seinfeld episode than reality.
The event managed to grab headlines across every major publication for days. Even those not affected heard about it. Now those people, including a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast, are wondering if they should avoid Southwest Airlines at all costs.
Should I Avoid Southwest Airlines in 2023?
Southwest Airlines just took one of the most visible black eyes of any airline in recent memory.
After disrupting or ruining holiday plans for so many people just last month, should we all avoid Southwest? That's a question that a listener posed to Clark on the Jan. 6 episode.
Paul in Washington asked: "I have rapid rewards points and I want to book a flight in late February. Given Southwest Airlines' chaos, how risky is this?"
In addition to canceled flights, images surfaced featuring mountains of lost or stranded luggage.
Said one customer of her luggage more than two weeks after her flight got canceled: “I’m just hoping that eventually someday I’ll be able to find them. I just don’t know how much I trust Southwest anymore.”
The reaction certainly makes emotional sense. Given the choice between multiple airlines, are you choosing the one that failed so spectacularly, so recently?
In Paul’s case, however, he’s got a stash of rewards points he’d like to cash in.
Clark’s willing to bet that there won’t be a second act to the chaos — at least not so soon.
“After an airline has a meltdown, they become typically the most reliable airline you could fly,” Clark says. “Because everybody in management is focused when a company messes up badly and the CEO is embarrassed on national TV, social media and everywhere else.
“I wouldn’t worry at all because I think that after a problem is when it’s the safest to use a service provider. I’m actually flying Southwest next week. I’ve got all those free points from them. I’m not worried.”
Clark’s Advice, Southwest Airlines or Not: Do Not Check a Bag
Just because Clark feels comfortable hopping on a Southwest flight, and in the airline avoiding a full-scale meltdown, he’s not trusting the company — or any of their competitors — with a checked bag.
Your first two checked bags are free with Southwest, by the way. But here's what Clark said about checked bags in his four travel rules to follow right now.
“Do not, do not. Do. Not. Check. A. Bag. Don’t do it,” Clark says. “Checking a bag right now? You’ve got to hate yourself to check a bag because you lose so much flexibility.”
Southwest Airlines took a major hit financially and publicly after wiping out such a large percentage of their December flight schedule.
However, Clark thinks that the safest and best time to fly is right after such an embarrassing episode.
Just avoid checking a bag, Clark says.
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