Friday, November 19, 2010

Why I Fly Southwest

Because they "get it."  Look, I'm a capitalist.  I freely defend the right of people to make money, and to run their businesses for the purpose of making money.  But I very much appreciate companies who clearly go out of their way to provide excellent customer service as they go about making money.  It says, "We know you have a choice about who you do business with, and we'd like you to choose us."  And when I receive such excellent customer service, I am likely to return.  I'm biased, but that's Starbucks (95% of the time), and it's also Midas.  And it's Southwest Airlines.

With all this hoo-hah (ahem) over the new Special Bonus Feature Edition "Enhanced Patdowns" and Nude-o-Scopes, I've heard little from the airlines themselves attempting to defend their customers.  The pilots unions are starting to get involved, thank God, but the airlines are strangely silent (at least it seems to me).  But in an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Southwest's senior vice-president of operations, make clear that he's got sympathy for what's going on, and also communicating that there are business impact to this new uh...procedure:
"With people getting partially molested at checkpoints, all that is going to be a real shock for them...TSA will create an issue for us. It's going to slow things down."
But this, this is the best part.  This is customer service.
Southwest will have employees with walkie-talkies at checkpoints to hold airplane departures if passengers are stuck in long lines.
I hate going through the screening procedures at airports already.  It's embarrassing, it's a pain-in-the-rear, it is ridiculously inconsistent across airports, and fliers are rarely treated with common courtesy and respect.  For example, I should be able to watch you open and examine my carry-on items, and they should remain near me at all times, for security's sake.  I may be able to "see" my laptop 10 yards away, but that's not really going to prevent anyone from stealing it.  Further, I should not have to request that you put on clean gloves.  I'm sorry, that's just standard procedure for anyone who wears gloves for any purpose.  If I have to wash my hands just going in and out of a hospital room to visit a patient who I never even touched, you need to change your gloves.  Finally, I am just as deserving of respect as a human being as you are.  I am willing to respect you as the person that has been hired to ensure that my prosthetic leg is not, in fact, a cleverly concealed weapon, if you are willing to respect me as 1) acting in good faith, 2) not deliberately trying to make your job harder or scam the system, and 3) a real human being who is forced into this very personal interaction with a complete stranger. 

Now, going into a screening experience with all-but-certain knowledge that the encounter will be the exact opposite tends to make one a tad nervous and anxious.  Add to that the idea of very long lines during holiday travel, and the very real threat you could miss your flight while standing in that very long line, and now you've got people who are even more nervous and anxious.  What better to give them a small amount of relief than the knowledge that at least the airline they are flying is looking out for them, and won't let them be stranded at a security checkpoint? 

Points to Southwest Airlines.

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