American budget air carrier Southwest Airlines certainly knows how to stand out. The inexpensive carrier has spent the last twelve months giving its flight attendants rapping duties, shunning charges for bags and other carry-on items, and finally revamping its fleet to include bigger, better, and more efficient planes. But its latest move – a small contract addition– could be the strangest of all.
Southwest’s latest policy change reflects its ability to claim certain expenses under insurance, and to subsequently reimburse them to passengers. Up until two weeks ago, the airline could give credit to passengers with delayed flights due to mechanical damage, owing to the fact that it tends to occur due to routine maintenance failures and poor treatment of technology.
But today, the airline’s new ‘act of god’ policy includes delays due to mechanical breakdowns. The airline now has the dubious honour of having its reliability controlled by a deity – something that’s upsetting passengers and insurance companies. While Southwest’s current contract is completely legal – it’s just a simple wording change – the edit could see customers lose out on future claims.
Is it likely to be a major blow for the air travel industry? Unlikely. While Southwest’s recent move may seem like a nickel-and-dime strategy most often seen on RyanAir, the company itself is known for being fairly generous with extra fees. Customers aren’t charged for carry-on baggage or smaller additional bags – something that attracts extra fees on rival airline Spirit Air.
However, it does put travellers in an unusual position. Should a flight be delayed on Southwest’s air services, the reason may not read ‘damaged pump’ but ‘vengeance of God’. While it’s bound to make insurance claims a little more interesting, it may do more damage to Southwest’s reputation than it saves the airline in eliminated reimbursement costs.
The North American airline industry isn’t one that attracts excess praise. With industry giants and tired monopolies dominating the skies, customer service for most of the continent’s major airlines tends to range from ‘poor’ to ‘abysmal’. But amongst the clutter of size and mediocre service, one independent airline has managed to attract critical acclaim in a way that few can emulate.
The airline in question is Southwest Airlines, and its operating territory is the United States. One of several low-cost airlines operating within the country, Southwest has gained praise from consumers for its friendly customer service and value-driven approach to business. It’s also won over business groups, reporting steady profits despite an overall downturn in the domestic travel industry.
Now, the airline wants to expand further. Southwest currently operates throughout several states in the south and south-west regions of the country, and its presence appears to be quite dearly missed in other states. The company wishes to expand its fleet of small planes and acquire several larger airliners, all moves that indicate a desire to move the airline’s service into more states.
If the proposal is successful, the company could expand operations into several major markets that lack steady low-cost competition, earning greater revenue and increasing its brand awareness. With a strategy that revolved around customer satisfaction and low-cost travel, greater coverage is likely to be a success for Southwest. The airline currently flies using Boeing 737 aircraft exclusively.
For budget travellers, the move is likely to be welcomed. For those unaware of Southwest’s culture and strategy, it’s one that’s likely to be met with disbelief and potential joy. Footage of the airline’s unusual approach to customer service has reached far and wide online – one video of an attendant rapping safety instructions to passengers has been viewed over 200,000 times on YouTube.