Friday, September 19, 2008

South West Airlines - Turbulence at the Gate

I love South West Air and enjoy flying them. Today I think there was a screw loose in the giant clog that operates the airline and for a period of time turned from a raving fan to a ranting fan. I am blogging about this for 2 reasons - maybe there is a lesson learned and also that raving fans will expect things to never go wrong.

I arrived at the airport about 2.40 minutes earlier found my gate and settled down to do some work and converse on Twitter. Chatted with a lady who sat next to me about how good South West was. About an hour before the flight @stevenfisher came and we sat chatting. about 30 minutes before the flight I went up to the counter to ask if I can use miles to upgrade. The counter person saw my boarding card and said the biz class seats were all full.

Now 15 minutes before the flight out of the corner of my eye I see flurry of activity from a group of people saying 'They changed the gate and didn't tell us" I look at Steve who is like " What else did you expect from South West" . We rush to the Gate A8 and see another 10 or 15 people follow us one of them in a wheel chair. Now surprisingly there is no one at Gate A8 , by no one I mean no staff. We wait and wait. One young fella rushes out , doesn't talk to us , types away at this console and disappears. One of the group waiting with us can't stand it any longer , ventures into the walkway and tries to get some attention. One of the South West staffers comes out and again no explanation and closes the door. By now my imagination is running wild. All the time all of us standing at the gate are discussing just one thing - Why didn't they make an announcement that the gate has been changed. My Hospitality experience tells me that all of our anxiety would have been resolved by one of the staffers taking responsibility to just tell us what the situation was. I start tweeting the situation to @southwestair ( I consider them as friends)Our group starts speculating - people go to the windows to see if the plane is in fact still there, some of us are discussing if they had boarded the standby passengers and so they may not have room for us, is the aircraft smaller so did they decide not to announce the gate change .

In a few minutes - the only friendly face we have seen so far- the captain walks out. he is the first person to tell us that they are making some rearrangements . The group is calmer now.  After a few minutes the entire team walks back and takes care of the wheel chair passenger first and then we all board. I sheepishly go back to the gate as I have carried my food and left my laptop bag behind. The smiling captain remarks to me " You have your priorities right, at least you didn't forget your food. AS we are the last to board we obviously dont get any aisle or window seats. I am always thinking positive so I think " atleast I dont have to sit next to Steve" ( sorry Steve !)

Inside the aircraft the South West Magic comes back. The cabin crew is very friendly , they say sorry , we always try to do things right but sometimes this happens. The captain cracks a joke about taking 11 days to reach Las Vegas. I love the way the cabin crew do their improv. Do they get a book of funny lines? Do they have comedy classes ? What ever funny bone training they got, my mood is much better.  I will still fly SouthWest ( I can't vouch for Steve)

I am writing this blog post on the plane and will publish it after I land.

Lesson learned : It was critical for the SouthWest gate person at A9 to have made the gate change announcement. I am willing to bet the monitors were showing A9.  A supervisor or someone should have been at the gate A8 to tell people that they would be boarding soon.

High expectations from companies that you love : People loved Jet Blue but the one day that wintery day in New York affected them .

What do you think? Do you think people want more from companies they love. You don't think too much about a bad experience from a company that is not known for its service and may be more forgiving.

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