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.