How Gay-Friendly is Southwest Airlines?
According to the Human Rights Campaign, this popular airline has come a long way in recent years toward improving its track record on gay issues. It covers sexual orientation in its employee handbook, offers same-sex partner benefits to employees, does GLBT advertising and marketing, and requires diversity training on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also,Southwest operates a useful webpage specifically geared to gay and lesbian travelers. The airline also has linked with the San Francisco CVB to promote gay tourism.
Southwest's Gay-Friendliness Ranking with HRC:
According to HRC's Buying for Equality guide, Southwest Airlines scores an outstanding 90 out of a possible 100 on the Corporate Equality Index. This means its a "green" company, which HRC encourages consumers to "make every effort to support." It follows American Airlines (100) and United (100), and is tied with Delta (90), JetBlue (90), US Airways (90), and Virgin America (90) in these rankings.
Major Southwest Airlines Destinations:
Many popular GLBT destinations are served with numerous flights on Southwest. Note that some cities listed below don't have direct Southwest service but are within an easy drive of a city that does, and that since Southwest merged with AirTran, a number of smaller cities have been added (or will be added soon):
Albuquerque/Santa Fe, Austin, Baltimore/Washington, Boston, Chicago, Columbus (OH), Dallas, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Indianapolis, Long Island, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Ontario/Palm Springs, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland (OR), Providence, Sacramento, Salt Lake, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tampa/St. Pete.
Southwest Airlines at a Glance:
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines launched in 1971, first offering service just among the Texas cities of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Today, the budget-minded airlines offers more than 3,200 flight daily to 64 cities in 32 states, including several highly popular destinations among GLBT travelers. Airports with the highest number of daily Southwest departures are Chicago Midway (231), Las Vegas (219), Baltimore/Washington (176), Phoenix (173), Denver (166), Houston (138), Dallas (124), Los Angeles (109), Oakland (104), and St. Louis (92). Now with AirTran as part of Southwest, it's worth nothing the top 10 airports served by AirTran: Atlanta, Baltimore, Orlando, Milwaukee, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa Bay, Boston (Logan), New York City (LGA), Fort Myers, and Washington DC (Reagan).
In order to search Southwest fares, you need to log on directly to the airline's website, as you will not find Southwest fares by searching on most of the popular travel sites out there, such as Expedia, Orbitz, and so on. To find the cheapest deals, I recommend downloading "DING", free software that hangs out on your desktop and receives special offers - some of them amazingly good - once or twice most days. You can't access these offers without downloading the Ding software.
There are pros and cons to flying Southwest, most of them well-known among regular travelers. For example, it's a relative low-frills airline.
On the plus side, on many routes, Southwest offers among the lowest fares in the country. The airline also has amazingly flexible rules regarding flight cancelations and changes, and more often than not, you'll encounter friendly, cheerful, and even funny flight crew on Southwest planes (which are mostly Boeing 737s).
Even if you don't book your flight on Southwest, it's worth tracking when the airline is offering cheap flights to particular destinations (this changes constantly, as they're always adding new offers and discounting particular destinations). Often, when Southwest offers low fares to a city, other airlines that serve that same airport drop their fares temporarily as well.
Overall, this company that has made significant strides in gay-friendliness in recent years is a terrific resource for travelers looking to save money, or plan last-minute trips.