Customers First? Southwest Airlines Takes It To Heart



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There’s an amazing article making the rounds on the internet regarding a Southwest Airlines pilot who held a plane to wait for a passenger who was delayed getting through security.  That really isn’t the entire story. The story is that the man trying to make the flight was trying to get to Denver in time to say final good-byes to his 2-year-old grandson who was near death.

Both the Southwest pilot and the gate agent working the flight held the plane for 12 minutes to allow the passenger to make it.   For the pilot to make this call is significant, because he clearly could have made the decision to not wait. In some companies, an employee like this pilot maybe wouldn’t even have had the liberty to make a judgment call like this.  How often do we hear about companies that are more interested in sticking to their “policies” rather than making occasional exceptions that are in the best interest of the customer?

This SW pilot chose to wait, demonstrating leadership and a keen sense of being pro-active.  Yes, the passenger was able to get to Denver to see his grandson before he passed away.  Would other airlines have done the same?  I can tell you “NO” from my own personal experience in making flights with Southwest and missing flights with other carriers (in particular Delta and United).

No, I have not had personal emergencies like the one described above, but I will share a situation with a United gate agent at O’Hare who refused to hold a plane for 3 connecting passengers on a flight from Chicago to Omaha.  Oh, by the way, the flight was the last one of the day and the four of us attempting to make the flight were all coming in on a delayed flight on another concourse. The only reason I made the flight is because I was the fastest sprinter.

When I told the gate agent there were 3 more people coming, she said she couldn’t hold the flight because it might mess up connections in Omaha.  Excuse me for venting, but that’s a piece of garbage. First, as the gate agent, she has full access to view the itineraries of every passenger. Second, the flight was not landing in Omaha until 10:30 p.m. How many smaller airports can you name have departing flights at 10:30 p.m.?

I share these two examples for one simple reason. Southwest and their employees get it. The other’s don’t, plain and simple.  I won’t bother to share the situations I’ve had with Delta or the other situations I had with United. I will, though, continue to sing the praises of Southwest Airlines and how their employees truly do make a difference. For that reason, I choose to fly Southwest whenever possible.

If I were to move my miles to any other airline, I would easily be sitting in first-class on every flight. But what benefit is first-class seating if the service is poor?  Have you ever noticed how when you board any airline other than Southwest, the only thing the flight attendants seems to be concerned with is breaking up the ice in the ice bag?   It seems the ice is far more important than greeting passengers and helping them find their seats. I contend they dink around with the ice for the sole reason to appear to be busy so they don’t have to help passengers.

Thank you Southwest Airlines! You’re a great airline made up of truly great people. And you understand that equipping your employees to make wise judgment calls doesn’t just benefit those particular customers — such a culture of customer care benefits the entire company and the morale of employees.  Exceptional customer service begets more customers…happy, satisfied customers.  What company doesn’t want that?

My post today is not the first time I’ve used the blog to sing the praises of Southwest and to call out the problems of other airlines. I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Copyright 2011, Mark Hunter “The Sales Hunter.” Sales Motivation Blog.

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