If there is any upside to airline fees (besides millions in industry profits), Southwest Airlines may have found it with its Help Us Help Them EarlyBird Check-In campaign. The program promised that for every $10 fee paid by passengers for preferred boarding and early seating between Sept. 21 and Oct. 4, Southwest would donate $1 to help wildlife and habitats in the Gulf Coast recover from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The potential amount raised would be capped at $100,000.
The campaign was a hit. Fliers who opted for the EarlyBird Check-In fee – whether for philanthropic or purely personal reasons – helped raise $100,000, which was presented to the National Wildlife Refuge Assn. on Monday.
"Pelicans, sea turtles, manatees and a great many other species impacted by the oil spill stand to benefit from Southwest’s commitment," Evan Hirsche, the association's president, said in a release.
Of course this isn’t the first time that airlines have teamed up with passengers to do good. Many frequent-flier programs let members donate miles to good causes. Earlier this year, American Airlines offered up to 500 bonus miles for donations to the Red Cross on behalf of victims of Haiti’s earthquake. In August, Virgin America sponsored a one-day airfare sale that donated $5 from every ticket booked to educational charities.
But diverting money from an optional fee gives consumers a perk and a warm feeling. And maybe it will encourage some to choose airlines not by the best fare but by how much good they do.