“There’s just no way to apologize enough,” said Southwest Airlines CEO Robert Jordan of the colossal screwups that had Southwest cancelling more than 2,500 flights, or 59 percent of its flights versus 3 percent cancelled by other airlines during the 2022 Christmas holiday horror show.
Right, Bob. So, stop apologizing and DO something. Such as compensating passengers for their time and trouble and changing the name of the airline, hoping that the toxic effects of this disaster can be channeled away, making room for a viable brand.
Once the darling of the airline industry under the quirky and acerbic CEO Herb Kelleher, Southwest has gone from what Forbes called “a beacon on a hill” to the Chernobyl of the industry. The stock has taken a controlled flight into terrain, as the FAA delicately describes airplane crashes, and left a smoking hole in the ground. Even Southwest pilots and flight crews have pushed their employer off the subway platform, saying that they want to fly, but their system won’t let them do it.
The Transportation Secretary has also jumped in, threatening penalties and laying out four objectives that must be achieved.
Okay, all you crisis PR mavens, what would you recommend? Will compensation repair the damage? Should Southwest abandon the point-to-point system that has them picking up crews along routes they fly like going to Home Depot for casual labor?
Many causes, few immediately available cures. But since the underlying cause is overreaching greed resulting in “aggressive scheduling,” perhaps an antidote of charity can effect a fix. Start with affected customers, then move outward to communities and causes. Make bereavement flights (which you don’t offer now) available for free or half price. After all, it’s a flight no one wants to take, and you have a chance to ease the burden a bit.
Finally, return to Herb Kelleher’s dictum of putting employees first, customers second, because happy employees will treat customers better. And for goodness sake, rely on people who will actually answer questions rather than spouting canned bromides such as, “we love our customers, we love our people, and we really impacted [sic] their plans,“ as CEO Jordan told GMA on December 30. It just makes you grit your teeth.
Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications and the author of Carbon Man (Kindle, 2010).