The New York Times > Business > Your Money > From Aw-Shucks to Cutthroat: Southwest's Ascent: "Still think of Southwest Airlines as a folksy company whose employees dress in golf shirts and tell jokes? Don't tell its competitors.
Southwest's victory last week in the battle for some assets of a bankrupt rival, ATA Airlines, revealed an aggressive new stance at the airline. Already the largest low-fare airline in the United States, Southwest is on a path to becoming the industry's most influential company, something its traditional competitors might never have envisioned."
I had the misfortune of attempting to fly from BWI to Boston last week on AirTran (it was by far the cheapest option when I made the reservations a few weeks ago). The flight was cancelled with no explanation and no useful alternatives for getting back to Boston. I flew Southwest into Manchester, NH instead, and got home a bit earlier than I was scheduled to arrive via AirTran.
The contrast between the airlines was stark -- AirTran was under-staffed, unhelpful (borderline hostile), and clearly used to dealing with entire flights being cancelled. The Southwest employees were helpful, professional, informed, and pleasant to talk with.