Southwest User Experience

SOUTHWEST CHARM?

Southwest Travel

Southwest Travel

The Southwest employees at the ticket counter in Milwaukee were friendly and chatted with several customers as they passed by – our chat culminated in several employees providing me insights on finding a suitable seat on a crowded flight. Many of these employees are typically more casual than other airline employees. It’s a service industry and serious business getting customers from Point A to Point B and at the same time Southwest employees can be adept at picking their spots to be casual and light-hearted.”

As Southwest customers gathered at various gates at MKE, I look around and think, “why do all these fliers use this airline?” Is it the smiling airline attendants? Is it because bags fly free? Or perhaps many of the flights are direct so there’s fewer transfers? It’s nice to fly direct to Tampa or Orlando from Milwaukee or from Midway if you’re in the Chicago Metro area. Perhaps different travelers have different reasons to use Southwest, many of those reasons may be outlined below. Overall, if you informally ask a representative sample of Southwest travelers why they choose this airline, the reoccurring theme appears to be “good value” and “much of the hassles of flying have been mitigated.”

When pricing flights, it’s nice to have an good idea earlier on of the total cost of the flights. This airline headquartered in Dallas, Texas, does not appear to produce the amount of “gotchas” as other airlines. When people shop for a flight, they’d like to be able to compare apples with apples and not to oranges. One exception to this at Southwest is having to pay a little extra for preferred seating. It’s maybe their way of increasing their earnings although I’m inclined to say this fee should only apply to those frequent fliers.

Just for a change of pace I ordered coffee on board while flying Southwest and that cup of coffee was the tastiest coffee I had in nearly a month. That particular beverage allows me to briefly forget about the noisy children sitting nearby. I don’t think I’ll forget to order coffee the next time I fly with Southwest.  

I noticed much beer served on the plane, however, very little wine served. That makes sense considering this flight originated in Milwaukee.

They served honey roasted peanuts and Ritz crackers as snacks from Milwaukee, the honey roasted peanuts were apparently not sweet enough with the key ingredient being honey and peanuts so brown sugar and sucrose was also added. On the return trip, the roasted peanuts served were lightly salted without any natural or artificial sweetener added.

After being served a light snack and refreshments, flight attendants collect the snack and refreshment trash, sometimes they ask, “Do you need anything else?” That’s a nice touch with a genuine smile – something you may hear less often on some of the other large airlines.

I ran into a flight attendant at the back of the plane who was fishing out the aluminum cans and plastic water bottles from a white trash bag. I couldn’t help inquire what she was doing as it reminded me of sorting through recycling after our house party. Apparently, she was separating all the recyclable materials while she had a few minutes between tasks. It was interesting to hear that all those recycling materials were converted into cash and used for emergency relief assistance. It’s translated to help out employees if they affected by a tornado, hurricane or serious storm. It’s certainly unpretentious to “fish stuff” out of the plastic bags and the flight attendants need to do a little more work but this program appears to serves a great need in the Southwest employee culture.

Both flights provided free movies and various TV programs but not free WiFi. Some who are strictly looking for free WiFi I’m a little bummed about that – for non-movie buffs or those who want free WiFi for a few hours, it may be a slight disappointment.

Southwest Travel

Southwest Travel

Of course, travelers don’t simply choose Southwest because many flight attendants are fun and laid back. People appreciate and expect customer service and at the same time, the value of the product or service needs to be considered.

As mentioned earlier, those who prefer better seating arrangement will pay between $12-40 per seat. Is this a gimmick and another way of making more money? Southwest often will hammer home TV commercials that bags fly free and at the same time, those same passengers who want an aisle seat or the pick of the aircraft will need to pay extra?

Some may pay extra for the extra legroom at the emergency exits – in my mind, I could easily justify that expense for a little extra legroom. If you’re a traveler who needs to depart the plane quickly with luggage in tow, paying a little extra to sit in the first 8 rows or so could make sense.

Flying from Orlando, I noticed two lines at the Southwest check-in area – one line was considerably shorter than the other. I learned those with a boarding pass were served three times as fast as those without a boarding pass. Savvy travelers without a boarding pass quickly surveyed the situation and printed off the boarding pass to streamline their wait time. Sometimes there are advantages to having a hard copy of your boarding pass.

Coming home and sitting in row 17 on a 737 airplane may not initially appear to be prime real estate although that row appears to be the new section for snacks and refreshments so this row and those behind it may be served refreshments and snacks before rows 14-16 are close to being served.

So can an airline be successful where bags fly free, most flights are competitively price and flight attendants are customer centric? Where service and safety are very important and at the same time, it’s OK for staff to not take themselves too seriously and enjoy working with customers.

 

Kevin Schwarm

I have over 25 years of professional experience in business, information technology (IT), and customer service. Industry experience in retail, medical insurance, higher education, non-profit, financial services, and property and casualty insurance. Customer focused professional interested in providing value (save time, money and aggravation) by evaluating and analyzing information, services and products with a unique perspective.