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Southwest airline hits turbulence


Southwest has long been my “girlfriend,” because I’ve loved them since they started flying.

Back in 1991, I spoke to founder Herb Kelleher and wrote an article predicting they’d one day be the largest airline in America. That’s become partly true. They are the largest airline for domestic flights, though not if you factor in international travel.

But now Southwest is facing a midlife crisis. There was a recent story in Time that was negative on Southwest. They’ve now got their second CEO since Herb retired. The new guy seems bright, but he doesn’t seem to have enough customer focus, in my opinion.

Running an airline is a tough job, don’t get me wrong. But Southwest has always stood for getting a good deal. Today, that’s not necessarily as true.

Southwest is still great when you’re buying leisure travel well in advance of your travel date. But for business travelers buying at the last minute, Southwest doesn’t seem to be a special deal anymore.

If you’re business traveler, go to a multi-airline search engine like Kayak.com (they don’t include Southwest fares) or look at Allegiant Air or Spirit Airlines. Both are growing quickly because they offer unequivocal deals, yet I can’t stand Spirit because of the customer experience.

Hybrid cars booming

It is so exciting to see America on the mend. Are we healthy yet? No. But the sickness is ending. Real estate markets are roaring back to life. And in all likelihood, we should never see a bubble quite like the one we had last decade, in our lifetime at least.

It’s the same with the car market. A few years ago, we weren’t sure it would ever be viable again.

And time will tell how much the auto bailout played a part of this, and how good of a decision it was. But right now, in 2013, the U.S., European and Asian markets are now doing extraordinarily well. (And note: most of the “foreign” cars are now in fact being built right here in the U.S.!)

Here’s one of the most surprising stats from the car industry: Hybrids are selling like hotcakes. And not just to kooks like Clark who like to be first to pioneer new technology.

Recently I rented a Ford Fusion Hybrid. It was very economical, getting 35 mpg (even though it was rated at 45 mpg.) Still, that’s fantastic mileage.

The reason for hybrid popularity? Today, the “payback” time for purchasing a hybrid is only few months to a few years — down from dozens of years when they first came out. So there’s a real opportunity to save now.



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