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

Everyone's getting into the same corporate jacuzzi and bathing in this fine new idea.

Delta, American, United. They all think they can make inordinate profits by taking things away from passengers. You know, making them board last, shoving them in middle seats, banning carry-ons and promising them cheaper fares.

Some call it Basic Economy. I prefer to think of it as Sub-Cattle Class.

It's presented under the ruse that budget airlines are threatening these legacy carriers' business.

It's also presented as most certainly offering cheaper fares for the "same great service," to use American's beautifully phrased promise.

The weather-worn and jaundiced might worry that this is just another way for airlines to get all passengers used to less, so that they can charge them for more.

But what about Southwest?

There's been pressure from those tasteless Wall Street sorts for Southwest to, you know, do what everyone else is doing. Wall Street is known for its broad imagination.

It's an imagination that Southwest CEO Gary Kelly seems to find rather tiresome.

On an earnings call today, Kelly was asked by those whose palms are even more greasy than their hair what he thought about introducing Sub-Cattle Class.

He said: "Oh, yes. That's a frightfully good idea. The customers will love it. Why didn't I think of that?"

Oh, not quite. As USA Today reports, his answer was: "There is a huge value in offering all of our customers -- 100 percent of them -- a great product."

Professorial sorts will detect that Kelly seems to believe American and the like are offering something inferior with their more Neanderthal fares.

Indeed, as I may have mentioned before, the one thing all these legacy airlines seem not to care a whit about is their own brands.

It's as if they think: "Yes, our offering will be ever more full of nickel-and-diming, but people will love us all the same, because they adore our hands being constantly inserted into their back pockets."

Kelly, indeed, alluded to that too: "Any time we contemplate offering customers a choice, we debate that heavily because complexity drives confusion and it clouds the brand."

Of course, American and the rest want to offer complexity, in the hope that they can start you at the bottom and upsell you (or hoodwink you) into a dizzy delirium.

Kelly is a uniter, not a divider. As it were.

He believes that by offering free bags and no change fees, he's giving something strange and powerful. It's known in some circles as "something that customers actually want."

It's an odd sorcery that seems to have evaded many other airlines.

But of course, Southwest is struggling for money, right?

Well, I just came across this new headline: "Southwest Airlines reports record earnings in 2016."

Kelly offered the money people one more thought to explain why he believes his airline is different from the snooty, money-grabbing ones.

"Every other competitor, they lavish attention on elite customers and ignore the rest. That is our biggest opportunity because we don't ignore anybody," he said.

A quaint thought, that. One from which some might learn.

If customers are all treated well and if they see that every customer gets the same level of good service, they quite like it. It impacts on their feelings.

I'm not suggesting Southwest is perfect, of course. But it's worth admiring the fact that it has at least one eye -- and even a sole heartstring -- dedicated to customers.

It's a slight contrast from most airlines' clothing-free money-grabbing.

Published on: Jan 26, 2017
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