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United Airlines Takes Dig at Southwest in Super Bowl Commercial

The 30-second commercial highlights United's success during the recent holiday season in contrast to Southwest, a major rival at Denver International

by Fergus Cole

February 10, 2023

Super Bowl LVII 2023 / Photo: HTGanzo/Adobe Stock

United Airlines has unveiled a new commercial that will air in Colorado during the Super Bowl this Sunday, including what is being interpreted as a subtle dig at rival carrier Southwest Airlines.

The ad opens with white text on a plain black background reading, “This isn’t a flashy Big Game commercial. No celebrities. No gags.”

As video fades in showing a family gathered around a table, the text continues: “This is just the story of a family from Denver. Who got to be together for the holidays.” Then, the kicker: “United got more families in and out of Denver this holiday than any other airline. Despite the weather.”

Without explicitly saying so, this caption could be seen as a criticism of Southwest Airlines, which suffered a disastrous holiday season, canceling over 16,000 flights across the country due to a severe winter storm and leaving tens of thousands of passengers stranded. The situation was compounded by a series of technical glitches and operational failures, and the following PR disaster reportedly cost the carrier over $1 billion in revenue.

Southwest has recently posted its financial report for the final quarter of 2022, revealing huge losses of $220 million. In contrast, United reported profits of $843 million for the same period, a 31 percent jump compared to the final quarter of 2019.

According to Josh Earnest, senior vice president and chief commercial officer at United Airlines, just 5.5 percent of United’s scheduled seats between December 18 and January 5 were canceled, compared to 27 percent of Southwest’s schedule. United also performed better than Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines in terms of cancellations at Denver during the holiday period, according to the airlines’ internal figures.

Southwest Airlines is a major competitor to United, especially at Denver International Airport (DEN). The Colorado airport is a hub for both carriers, as well as Frontier Airlines.

“It’s not just about our biggest competitor here in Denver,” said Earnest about the commercial. “It’s about a handful of airlines, the so-called low-cost carriers, that have chosen to not make these kinds of investments that do have a disproportionate impact on their operational performance and on the setbacks that their customers have to endure.”

The ad will air in the Denver and Colorado Springs markets during the Super Bowl matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, February 12.

Chris Mainz, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, declined to respond directly to the ad, claiming he’d not seen it. “I’ll just offer that Southwest has demonstrated a 51-year history of serving customers well by operating one of the world’s most admired airlines,” he said.