Southwest to launch no-show policy

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Southwest Airlines will implement a no-show policy on passengers travelling on the most restricted fares from later this year, following new drivers of ancillary revenue that it rolled out earlier this year.

The airline had said last year it is looking at introducing a no-show fee on these travellers who do not show up for their flight, but clarifies today that it will not be charging such a fee.

Instead, no-show travellers who purchase the most restrictive fares and who do not cancel or change them before the flight departure will lose the value of that flight portion and the remaining itinerary will be cancelled, says a Southwest spokesman.

The new no-show policy will apply to the airline's cheapest fare classes, called "Wanna Get Away" and "Ding!", purchased or changed from 10 May, for travel from 13 September, says the carrier.

Before the no-show policy was introduced, Southwest had allowed travellers to apply any unused ticket value towards future travel for up to 12 months.

Southwest says the new policy will help reduce the number of empty seats on its aircraft.

The airline had started selling priority boarding positions at airport gates in January, and increased its charges for overweight baggage in February. It also raised fees for its priority check-in service.

Southwest has said the new ancillary fees will add $100 million of new revenue.

The airline's chief executive Gary Kelly emphasises in an earnings call today, however, that the new fees do not signal a change in Southwest's brand positioning of being a low-cost carrier with a focus on customer service. The airline does not charge for the first two checked bags and offers complimentary snacks on board, unlike many US carriers and most of Southwest's low-cost peers.

Kelly says the airline does not believe that ancillary revenue should be used as a way to hit earnings targets. "We must optimise the route network... that is the number one opportunity that will dwarf any ancillary opportunity," he says.