Southwest vs The Rest
This isn’t the first blog post I’ve written while on an airplane. I get lots of work done on planes, and it’s a great, quiet place to clear my head and write. For tonight’s flight I’m on Southwest heading to Denver for Christmas with my wife’s family.
I rarely fly Southwest simply because the options out of Charlotte are limited, and while it’s certainly cheaper than most other options, it’s not as low-cost as it was 20 years ago. But one thing is still the same, their customer service – and business model – is top notch. No doubt that’s why it’s still the only airline the frequently generates a solid return for its shareholders (the run since September has been particularly strong).
They’re famous for using only one model plane, meticulously calculating what should and shouldn’t be on the plane, and having gate turns faster than anyone else in the industry. All of these are critical to their profit margins.
But they’re also famous for their customer service and relaxed approach to their job. Jokes over the intercom and singing isn’t uncommon on a Southwest flight. Have you EVER heard that on United, Delta, or America??? Not me.
Yeah, the open seating is less than ideal for me, but it works for so many people. And the service is top notch. You don’t get that on American, and I have Gold status on American. About the best thing I can say about American Airlines in-flight service is they somehow have made me miss US Airways.
It’s been a long time since I’ve flown United so I can’t speak to that, and Delta – well, Delta and I have a history. On one business trip with Delta the flight attendant threatened to have me arrested, called gate security, and held me on the plan to meet with the pilot and security because I wouldn’t put my seat in the upright position for landing.
What she didn’t seem to care about was that the seat was broken, and I couldn’t move it up. When I tried to explain that, she got a very loud – especially for 6am – explanation of how hard her job was, how it’s against the law to not comply with her instructions, and how people like me are ruining America. I laughed, and the people around me were wildly entertained. She….was…..not.
That’s when I got to stay behind to have the private meeting with security and the pilot. It was at the end of that meeting I got very sincere apologies on behalf of the airline from both the pilot and the security guard. I certainly appreciated that, and they were great guys. They were most concerned that the seat was broken and that I might file a formal complaint. I was fine just to have what I thought was a funny story, but while those two gentlemen were great, it certainly soured me on Delta.
Anyhow, my point and question is this – if Southwest Airlines has figured out that customer service is king (particularly in an industry with little differentiation in their core services) and it’s working to make them the most profitable airline in the US, why aren’t the others following suit?
Is there something I’m missing that makes it really hard to be nice to people!? I realize standardizing a fleet of plane to just one model or earning best-in-class gate turns takes skill and work. I don’t mean to marginalize that, but we all have the capability to be friendly.
So why is it that only Southwest has been able to hire flight attendants with personalities?
I guess it’s one of those life mystery’s that will go unsolved for generations, but it struck me as I realized when we designed the concept for Flight 282. We never contemplated the flight would be a Southwest flight. That’s likely naïve, but could it also be that no terrorist would want to blow up a Southwest flight because everyone is just too nice! 😀 😀 😀