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December 2, 2015
Southwest: Flying by Rote Doesn't Relate
 
We’ve just returned from a trip to California, traveling on Southwest Airlines. It may well be the same on other airlines, but if Southwest is bidding for an image as a “cattle car” carrier, it’s succeeded with us. Yes, the seats were comfortable, but they seemed tighter in legroom than our flight to the coast last year.

But what really prompted me to provide this Southwest review was the rote way its customer-contact people — the stewardesses and gatekeepers — seemed to be approaching their jobs. Announcements — in plane and out — were typically provided in a droning, rapid-fire manner which suggested, “Either you get it or you don’t.” In short, the Southwest people seemed bored with their passengers and had their scripts memorized. We wondered, especially, how visitors from overseas or older people who don’t fly often were getting it. And doesn’t Southwest have supervisors who travel the routes, picking up on how their people are coming across? For us, it wasn’t an especially relational flying experience.

And back at the parking lot at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport it wasn’t any better, worse, in fact. The bus driver seemed to be in a funk, made no effort to help passengers with their bags and when we advised him, upon our return, that our car was at Stop Seven, there was no acknowledgement of us at all. (But as the bus got underway, he at least turned on a recorded speaker system that announced the stops.)

Don’t these folks recognize, or care, that they are in a service business where people have to hear and understand them and feel welcome?

At bustling BWI, the Southwest gate attendant said over his mike, I think, “Sit down, relax and I’ll call you,” and walked away.

But the baggage handlers, whom we never saw, were great.

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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