The Miracle That Is Southwest

A summertime nod to family not residing in Texas put me on a Southwest Airlines flight recently. The Dallas-based company still gives a breath of fresh air to the otherwise tedious process of air travel.

Business schools study Southwest for its human resources, corporate efficiency and customer service feats. “Hire for attitude and train from there” is their mantra as I remember it – and experience it.

Even as Southwest has acquired other airlines and added longer haul domestic and international flights, the company still seems to find enough “people people” to service its growth.

Permitting employees to be themselves while doing their jobs is risky business, but Southwest has reaped the rewards.

Rather than squeezing employees into proverbial corporate overhead bins, Southwest allows painting outside the lines – in a regulated industry trying to keep things inside the lines.

This paradox captures the brilliance of Southwest.

While post 9-11 rules and restrictions became more inane, mundane and insane, Southwest flight attendants turned them into fodder (while still getting required messages across, of course.) They simply followed in the footsteps of their irreverent founder, Herb Kelleher.

Southwest’s people people made flying tolerable. The worse the Transportation Safety Administration treated you (“Don’t touch my junk!”), the more you wanted to fall softly in the outspread wings of Southwest.

“If you’ll listen to these pre-flight instructions like it was your first time to hear them,” a flight attendant said on my recent flight, “I’ll pretend like it’s my first time to say them.”

“It’s time to stow all electronic devices,” she continued, “such as laptops, blenders and weed whackers.” The mental image cracked me up.

She wasn’t finished: “Please fasten your seatbelt like Beyonce wears her pants: tight and low on the hips.”

Even the pilot got in on the fun.

“The flight deck would like to welcome you to Flight 5602 with service to San Antonio and continuing service to New Orleans and Sydney, Australia.”

Sydney? Southwest does fly to Mexico and the Caribbean nowadays but not quite the South Pacific.

When we landed, the pilot accidentally welcomed us to our city of departure.

“I’m sorry, folks,” he said with a laugh. “It’s my second day on the job.” The line got plenty of laughs, mainly because we had already landed.

With booking and boarding systems so smooth, personnel so competent and prices so competitive, flyers tolerate Southwest’s general admission seating and crowded cabins relatively void of creature comforts.

Southwest’s mindset seems to be: The pompous class can pay up elsewhere for its assigned first class seat complete with personal flip down TV screen. They won’t get our jokes anyway.

A college friend has worked for Southwest since we graduated. She recalls the time the airline offered $29 fares to select regional cities. The promotion was advertised on Monday Night Football. First-time flyers came out of the woodwork. Their most popular form of luggage? Brown paper grocery sacks.

While Southwest is more than a common man’s airline – plenty of businesspeople refer to the airline as their “corporate jet” – you can bet the people people treated the football fans like kings.

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1 Response to “The Miracle That Is Southwest”

  1. 1 July 21, 2017 at 19:56

    Kevin, Ray Keller here. Did you leave Centennial Bank? Let me know and send me a phone number and e-mail. Thanks, Ray

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