I will still need to meet mins, and would not be garunteed an interview. It would however look "very favorable" to have that on your resume, or so the people at SWA tell me. I'm thinking it would be an invaluable networking opportunity.
Do you want to work at Southwest? Honestly, it's not for everyone.
I'm assuming you're like me, though, and you really want to work at SWA. You probably should do the internship... this could help you answer the above question (and probably make you want to work there that much more!).
When would you do the internship, and how long would it last? If we're talking spring semester 2006 and merely delaying getting hired at a regional by 5 months, I'd say go for the SWA internship. The next 6 months may not have much hiring at a lot of regionals anyway (Mesaba, Comair, etc. furloughing).
Other factors: does the internship pay anything, or more appropriately, can you afford it (besides the opportunity cost of not going to a regional right away)?
When I was in college, I was one of the few in my class that didn't do an internship with an airline. I did intern with a corporate flight department, and due to my committment, I delayed applying to regionals much like you might. It has been useful for me to bring this "honoring of committments" up in some of my interviews. There have been bumps in the road, but so far, my past decisions have worked out well for me...
Just don't second guess yourself after you've made the decision! Most of the time, you have LITTLE control of an airline career!
I do, very much, want to fly for SWA. They've been the subject of many projects and essays throughout my college career. I believe it would be a 3 to 4 month intern, and pays $9 an hour (the only internship i know of that pays). With the $9/hour i'd probably make more than I would for those 4 months at a regional...ha. My main concern is recency, airlines arent going to hire anyone who hasnt flown in the last 4 to 6 months, so i'd have to go back to CFIing, especially as an "800 hour wonder". I think it would be a good long run decision and help my chances of getting in there one day...what to do....what to do....
Don't forget the possibility that the airline that you do your internship at 800hrs may not even be hiring (possibly furloughing) by the time you're qualified/meet mins for the interview. It's happened to countless interns over the years at many different airlines. I did an internship at Delta while in school and thought that may be my "in". Today I'm at Continental without an "in". Go figure....
That bein said, it's good to have an in somewhere. 3-4 months of internship probably won't make a difference time wise, so you might as well do the internship and then go get whatever job you can find to meet SWA's minimums. Might just work out for you.
Do the internship. At this point in the game, 3 to 4 months of putting off a regional job won't make a big difference. You're only 22. Even if SWA never hires you sometime down the road, I'm sure the internship would be rewarding in other ways. And right now isn't exactly a great time to get hired at a lot of the regionals. Any type of internship will look good on a resume. And you never know who you may meet during the internship. One major factor in this career path is networking. Just my two cents. Best of luck.
There are others that pay. UPS for example (which I did in 2004) is a year long position, salary and paid well above probationary pilot pay. 121 exposure, training environment, Level D simulators, interacting with big customers, helping be a part of the best cargo airline is all experience second to none.
If you can take the time, do it. It may open other doors that you dont even know exist.