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Southwest is America's favorite 'value airline' brand

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

Southwest Airlines (LUV) is America’s favorite “value airline” brand, according to a Harris Poll survey of more than 77,000 U.S. consumers over the age of 15.

Based on consumers’ perception of 3,015 brands in a variety of categories that have significant operations in the U.S., The Harris Poll EquiTrend study looked at how they impact consumers using three variables — familiarity, quality, and consideration.

Southwest has been “brand of the year” in the “value airline” category since the award was introduced in 2011. Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines has been the “full service brand of the year” since that category was introduced in 2012.

Southwest Airlines

The Dallas-based carrier has commanded a solid lead in the category over time and remains the brand of the year in the value airlines category by a large margin for 2018.

Equity trend among Value Airline brands. Picture courtesy of The Harris Poll.

Southwest recently expanded its offerings westward with a new route to Hawaii. The company also announced late last month that it planned to add 15 more daily departures from Dallas, bringing nonstop flights to seven new cities.

But the company saw revenues dip with a drop in bookings after a fatal accident in April, when a plane’s engine failed and a passenger was partially sucked out of a window.

The company is known for its unique open-seating policy, which aims to streamline the boarding process but can annoy some flyers. The company also got negative press last year when video emerged of a woman being dragged off a plane.

JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines

Among the value airlines brands, JetBlue (JBLU) was the only one that showed a modest gain in score this year. The main source of the improvement came from the Baby Boomers, survey respondents born between 1946 and 1964. 

JetBlue prides itself on offering free, high-speed Wi-Fi at every seat.

Equity trend among Full Service Airline brands. Picture courtesy of The Harris Poll.

While JetBlue and Southwest came on top for “value brands,” Hawaiian Airlines (HA) emerged as the winner in the “full service brands” category.

The company’s improvement was due to its rising brand familiarity, strong quality and consideration points, according to Harris Poll. Consideration points refer to when a consumer chooses the brand over all competing brands.

The company offers nonstop flights to Hawaii from California, which pits it against Southwest. It also features complementary “island-style” cuisine as well as Hawaii-made spirits and wines chosen by the state’s first Master Sommelier.

Travel brands hardest hit overall

Overall, 40% of American airline brands took a reputational hit — compared to 25% of the 3,015 brands survyed, according to the study.

“It was a bad year for the airline industry in general,” said Amir Kanpurwala, EquiTrend Director at The Harris Poll.

“There have been a number of these incidents that have dominated the news… and people are reacting negatively based on what they’re seeing in the news.”

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