Surprise Savings From Southwest Airlines Screw-Up

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Southwest Airlines Logo

Southwest Airlines Logo

In today’s volume-driven business climate, it’s rare to be surprised by a random act of kindness or even just a company accepting responsibility for its glaring fault.

This past week we were pleasantly shocked by an airline which is even more uncommon. We’ve all watched the 9/11 security fees, body scanner charges, lost change tally, luggage invasion notes, and more roll by as we have been forced to give up more of our money and privacy. Gone are the days of lighting up a cigarette on a flight and that’s perfectly fine with me, but ripped from our hands are also the ability to meet a family member right at the gate as they deplane or pay for a one-way ticket with cash and no ID.

The travel date related to above-mentioned surprise included an associate who has special needs. I had emailed Southwest Airlines about a month before the trip and asked for its policies regarding accommodations for someone who has a mild disability. All I ever received in response was an auto-acknowledgement that my message was accepted into Southwest’s system. About 2 weeks went by with no answer so I sent a follow-up which resulted in only another auto-ack. When it was only 5 days prior to the flight I was a bit concerned so I picked up the phone and called Southwest’s Customer Service line. After bouncing between 4 different representatives because my disability assistance request was not for a wheelchair, I finally reached what I considered a resolution by speaking to a supervisor. That supervisor advised me to approach the gate attendant at the airport and explain the matter in person. I was told that the attendant has the final authority to make decisions and that would be the best way to go here. I was admittedly slightly irritated at the forecast of begging in public at the last minute before boarding, but since it seemed there was no other option I hesitantly agreed.

On departure day, bags were checked in, clothing and accessories were removed, radiated and then re-dressed, boarding passes were reviewed and initialed, and I walked up to the gate attendant for our particular flight. I only got about two sentences into my explanation and the very polite woman reached in her drawer and handed me a blue index card sized vinyl pocket labeled Pre-Boarding Authorization. Inside the pocket was a folded and highlighted notice going over all of Southwest’s policies and procedures to comply with special needs and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Well, I thought, that was easy. I had to do the same thing for the return trip and though I had to get more in detail as to the unique requirements of my party, it was overall pretty darn pleasant.

So I put this all to the back of my mind and settled back into daily life after the trip. Until this past week when I received an email from Southwest. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory so I’ll just paste it here without further ado. Needless to say, I will be making Southwest Airlines my priority airline and as this blog entry indicates, I will tell others they should consider making the same choice.

What do you think? Have you had a similar experience with Southwest or any other operation?

Dear X,

Please accept our sincere apologies for our delay in responding to your e-mails of November 20 and December 12.  Unfortunately, due to a technical routing error, your correspondence was not appropriately distributed for our review and response.  An audit of our database processes brought this to our attention, and we wanted to reach out to you and let you know that our Customers’ concerns are extremely important to us.  We regret that we did not follow up with you in a timely manner.

Southwest Airlines offers priority preboarding to Customers with disabilities who require assistance with boarding, a specific seating accommodation, and/or who need to stow an assistive device.  A Customer may request preboarding authorization from a Customer Service Agent (CSA) at the departure gate.  Our CSAs are trained to ask all Customers who request preboarding on the basis of a disability:  1) Do you need assistance to board the aircraft? (e.g., wheelchair assistance, the use of a cane or other mobility device, etc.), and 2) Do you have a specific seating need in order to accommodate your disability?  The answers to these questions determine if the Customer qualifies for priority preboarding.

As a gesture of goodwill, we have processed a full refund of your and X’s tickets each in the amount of $XXX.XX to the original form of payment.  We hope that you will accept this gesture in the spirit intended.

Your continued patronage means the world to us, and we ask that you give us an opportunity to serve you and your partners again under better circumstances.  It is always our privilege and our pleasure to welcome you onboard.

Sincerely,

Kevin, Southwest Airlines

The file reference number for your e-mail is X.

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