Southwest's campaign takes aim at airline fees

DALLAS: Southwest Airlines (SWA) launched a new campaign "Fees Don't Fly" with advertising starting today, June 2, to reinforce to consumers the company's decision to continue providing its services without reductions or additional charges and reaffirm its brand.

DALLAS: Southwest Airlines (SWA) launched a new PR campaign “Fees Don't Fly” with advertising starting today, June 2, to reinforce to consumers the company's decision to continue providing its services without reductions or additional charges and reaffirm its brand.

In recent weeks, competitor airlines made headlines with changes to service, including American Airlines' introduction of a fee for checked baggage, the doing away of free snacks at US Airways, and the return of minimum stays that affect the price of business travelers' tickets.

“The specific goal is to amplify the points of difference flying Southwest, particularly in this environment where it appears our competitors are having to institute all sorts of fees and take away all sorts of services due to their financial situation,” said Linda Rutherford, VP of PR and community affairs for SWA.

In an earlier interview with PRWeek on the state of the airline industry, another SWA PR pro also said the company is not interested in a la carte pricing and plans to emphasize that in communications.

Instead it will be "seeking additional revenue by adding to customer experience," like a service to pay for placement in boarding line, according to Ginger Hardage SVP of corporate communications for SWA.

An article from CNNMoney today points out fees by all the major carriers.

The SWA team will promote the campaign through media relations, such as its blog, nutsaboutsouthwest.com, outreach to influential bloggers, and employees, who have been provided with talking points and information to answer consumer questions, according to Rutherford.

Rutherford said the thought process behind the campaign began in early May "after the buzz of what's happening within the industry within the last three weeks."

"We knew we had to communication how Southwest was different, because of rising consumer confusion, concerning what airline was instituting what fee,” she said. The team began to incorporate the messaging into company news with a post to its blog, and it picked up more attention during a shareholders' meeting in late May.

Southwest is able to maintain its services and profitability, “by hedging more than other airlines so we can control jet fuel prices,” notes Rutherford of one of the messages which will be communicated.

Other airlines, including American Airlines, say they plan to emphasize the growing burden of jet fuel costs.

At US Airways, corporate communications manager Michelle Mohr also said its PR team is emphasizing the effects of fuel costs on its business.

“Our focus is really on fuel. Fuel represents what as an airline is our largest cost and followed by labor," Mohr told PRWeek. "All airlines are struggling with it, normally [I] wouldn't speak on behalf of all airlines, but it really is an industry focus.”

Mohr does not expect the airline's removal of free snacks for domestic coach passengers, which went into effect yesterday, June 1, to alter consumers' decision of which airline to fly.

"We don't anticipate frustration, because we had surveyed 3,000 customers… snacks didn't come up when choosing an airline," she said.

This spring, several airlines, including United, US Airways, Northwest, and American Airlines, announced a fee to check a second bag. US Airways' Mohr and Northwest Airlines' manager of media relations Kristin Baur, said their companies are also considering adding a checked bag fee after AA's recent move.

Baur added that Northwest's approach to the changing environment has been reactive.

"We've just responded to the changing nature of doing business, haven't necessarily taken the message out there and said that what we're doing we've just had to respond to day to day business," she said.

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