Southwest Airlines Delays

IMG_0814I’m flying to Atlanta on Friday afternoon (flight 3014, 4:40 pm CT departure) to get my daughter to drive back to Libertyville, IL on the following day. She needs to be back in the Midwest to help prepare for her wedding celebration the following weekend. Two days prior, on Wednesday, I see the online news state Southwest Airlines had a computer glitch that same afternoon. Being a busy individual, I thought nothing of it.

BTW, what does a computer glitch mean? Virus? Malware? Hacking occurring by nefarious individuals or groups? OS or application upgrade that didn’t go well. Not exactly sure what a computer glitch means in this case.

On Friday morning, preparing for my flight, I’m getting notifications from Southwest (and my family) that flight 3104 has been delay. I had received 4 email notifications.

IMG_0818About 2-3 hours before leaving for the airport (this summer, we’ve been warned to budget more time for TSA), our goal is to determine what time to leave for Milwaukee (MKE). If the scheduled time of departure was 4 pm but they immediately pushed it back to 6 and then 7 pm, how is this handled from a logistical approach? In other words, are you still required to the gate 40 minutes before your original departure time? Of course it’s an important question to answer, do you call Southwest? Being a seasoned traveler, you realize because of the technical issues and flight delays from the past several days, the support lines will be extremely busy so you access FAQs on their website to get some clarification. Frequently Asked Questions typically address many questions and reduce customer service but no success this time. Therefore, my wife spent around 45 minutes on the phone to get that answer. If that question had been addressed through FAQs that 45 minutes could have gone to another customer’s issue especially during this busy and hectic backlog situation.

IMG_0817When there’s much confusion and many changes to flights being cancelled or postponed, there’s no exact answer to know the exact status of your flight. During many times during the evening, checking the updated departure time on their website stated a time quite different from the departure board. Of course, I only use that board as a guide, I’d also checked with the Southwest employees at gates C19, C21, and C22 to confirm the online time. On a number of occasions, Southwest associates admitted that the times on the website were not consistent with the information they were receiving. If those times were the same, it could have helped clarify things. Anyway, an opportunity for Southwest to address the issue of online times being different from the times gate employees accessed?

Their website recommends using flight notifications to ensure travelers know the actual flight was scheduled to depart. However, this tool was not useful in this situation. Because the flight was delayed a number of times from the original 4:40 pm, I thought it might be useful to leverage this tool to see abreast on all the changes. However, I tried to signup 30 minutes after my original flight departure but the notification said it could not be processed as it was past the scheduled time. From what I can gather, the tool looks at the scheduled departure only and does not have the built in flexibility to incorporate the updated time (on the same flight) and trigger an email which means I’ll use the online updates and occasionally pester the agents to get current information.

IMG_0822I also learned the departure/arrival board is not that useful if delays are more than 2-3 hours. As time passes, older flights are dropped and if your mind wanders and you lose track of time, no longer seeing your flight listed makes one think it’s been cancelled. Why not keep it on the board if it’s not departed yet or has not been cancelled. I don’t fault Southwest for this glitch, I believe the airport just drops certain flights after hours have passed regardless of the status.

BTW, I read on Chicago.cbslocal.com that on Thursday, Southwest employees were handing out peanuts, pretzels and water to frustrated travelers who had were inconvenienced by the delays. Unfortunately, I waited over 5 hours in Milwaukee without any snacks. In fact, all restaurants closed at 9 pm even though our flight didn’t leave until after 10 pm.

IMG_0826However, I will say the Southwest employees were challenged but overall did a good job. I’m not one who will verbally berate airline associates who are doing the best they can. The glitch that occurred was not something they could control, but were acting as a team and did their best to serve all travelers. The good news, the flight was reduced by 30 minutes to Atlanta and the flight attendants made our flight as comfortable as possible and were customer centric.

Will I fly Southwest again? Certainly. However, I hope this computer glitch was a glitch that will not occur again for a very long time.

UPDATE – Three days after my flight, I receive an email from Southwest Airlines apologizing for the flight delay. In a sincere effort to show how concerned they are about their service delays, they are offering a 50% discount on my night flight. They are not legally compelled to do so, however, they are showing an attempt to do better next time.

I appreciate their thoughtfulness and consideration and have one question, in a similar situation, would United or American Airlines so the same thing?

Let us begin to make it up to you!
As you know, we recently experienced a widespread technology outage and operational issues. We know these caused you to experience long wait times, either on the phone or at the airport. Despite the best efforts of our Employees who worked very hard to support your needs, we were not able to keep up with the incredible demand for help and answers during that time. To be blunt, we failed you and that is simply not acceptable to me. For that, please accept my heartfelt apologies. We pride ourselves on taking care of our Customers through Hospitality, Reliability, and Safety. On the rare occasion when things don’t go as planned, and we didn’t deliver on the Reliability, we certainly aim to deliver on the care and Hospitality to our Customers. In a sincere effort to show you how much we would like another chance, we are offering you 50 percent off your next Southwest Airlines flight. You can use it on any flight to any domestic destination (no blackout dates) when booked by October 31, 2016, for travel through January 31, 2017. I know we can do better, and there is nothing we would appreciate more than to prove that to you.

Please accept my apology, and I sincerely hope you take us up on this offer so that we may thank you in person for flying Southwest Airlines.

Sincerely,

Gary Kelly Southwest Airlines Chairman, President, & CEO

 

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.

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