Southwest’s secret to dominating the airline industry…common sense

April 28, 2012

Customer Service

Dear airline industry: Read the fortune cookie. Learn from it. (Image credit: Loisalove --


So the other day I’m flying this airline with a group of colleagues for a business trip. It doesn’t really mater which airline. I’ll just say that it wasn’t Southwest. But you would have been able to guess that after reading the next few paragraphs.

Here are a few of the things that happened on this trip:

1. The plane was delayed an hour an a half. This meant we’d miss our connection. There were six of us in our group. Two were moved to a new flight at one time. Four were moved to a flight that left an hour and 15 minutes after.

2. One of my colleagues thought she was moved to the later flight. But when she went to the gate to verify and get a boarding pass, the airline rep told her she was actually on the earlier connection. The one that left in 15 minutes. The one that was in concourse C. We were in concourse A. “Good luck making it in time,” the airline rep said. No call down to the gate to say she was coming. No I’ll see what I can do. Nothing.

3. Most, not all, of the people who worked for this airline were going through the motions. But more than that…they didn’t seem happy. One of the most important characteristics of a frontline employee who deals with customers is personality. Do they smile like Magic Johnson? Do they have fun at their job? Or do they look like they would do just about anything to be just about anywhere else. Makes a HUGE difference when it comes to how a brand is perceived.

4. Bag fees. I forgot those things even existed. Pay $25 to check a bag. When I hear that, I can’t do anything but laugh. I also laughed at the five other upgrades the airline’s e-ticket console asked me before it actually spit out my boarding pass. No, I do not want to pay $50 to upgrade to first class for a 34-minute flight.

As all of this was going on, I kept looking around the gate area. For two reasons, really. One, I needed to charge my iPhone and laptop, but couldn’t find an outlet anywhere. What I needed was one of those cushy chairs with the plugins right next to it. You know, the ones they have in most Southwest gates? Instead, I found an outlet on the floor right in the middle of the doorway into the gate. After seeing my iPhone almost crushed by a passenger’s shoe five different times, I decided a dead battery was better than a dead phone.

Two, I was halfway expecting to see a representative from Southwest — maybe even the rapping flight attendant — sitting in the corner watching all of this and laughing. Hysterically. A big belly laugh. Followed by a head shake. And pointing a finger at the other airline in a “Can you believe these guys?” sort of way. Because it’s so damn funny. And so easy. Except, I didn’t really expect to see that. Because Southwest wouldn’t do that. Their brand and employees have too much tact.

Every time I fly another airline, I am just a little more shocked at how easy they make it for Southwest to dominate the airline industry. And I do mean dominate. Just look at the bottom line numbers. But also, and maybe more telling, just talk to a friend. Or fly Southwest and then another airline to compare. The difference is astounding. It will leave you shaking your head. And it’s nothing more than one company that embraces common sense in its business practices and a bunch of others whose common sense arrival seems to be delayed like so many of their flights.

What if the situation I mentioned above had been on a Southwest flight? Here’s what I think would have happened:

1. Their flights are rarely delayed. But if it was, we all would have been put on the same new connection. And probably would have gotten a free drink ticket. People like drink tickets.

2. The Southwest agent would have called down to the other gate and asked them to hold the plane because another passenger was on her way. I know this would have happened. It’s just common sense.

3. Watch the rapping flight attendant video above or fly any Southwest flight and notice the corny songs they sing when you land or the way they joke with passengers. That’s opposed to the stuffy on-plane security videos and frowny drink service on other airlines. Southwest employees smile more than those of any other airline. Probably because they work where they work.

4. Bags fly free. The commercial may annoy you. Kind of annoys me. But it doesn’t annoy my bank account.

Treat people with respect. Have fun at your job. Focus on customer service. This is not some secret sauce to success. It’s not rocket science. But it is amazing how adopting some simple principles focused on common sense can allow one brand to so thoroughly dominate — we’re talking 2008 New England Patriots in the regular season dominate — the competition.

Perhaps more amazing is how none, and I mean none, of the other airlines appear ready to pull of the David and Goliath upset the New York Giants did against the Patriots in the 2008-09 Super Bowl.

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