Beefing: Southwest Airlines Sucks

Southwest Airlines Contact Information
Two consecutive trips on Southwest — my primary conveyance between home and work — and I’ve been boned in Baltimore. First time was in June when the flight leaving Providence was hopelessly delayed by thunderstoms. I asked the gate geek if I would make my connection to Raleigh, and being told that I would I boarded the plane, only to land in Baltimore to find the Raleigh connection had departed five minutes before. Stranded in Baltimore, I went to the bank of telephones in the baggage area and started dialing for a room to spend the night. Hah. No one had rooms. So I went to the Southwest ticket counter where I was handed a green slip of paper with an 800 number on it. Some outsourced displaced persons service that also said there were no rooms. Okay, guess I was going to sleep on a bench, but I kept dialing and finally found a cancellation at 1 am, paid $150 for four hours use of a mattress and shower. I didn’t even expect Southwest to pony up for the pain in the neck. Weather is weather. But getting sympathy in the form of a green slip of paper that doesn’t work just sucks.

So there was that.

Now I sit at Baltimore, having deduced, on my own, that the connection to Providence was yet again delayed. First beef: Southwest’s mobile site for phone access only permits one to check in for a flight, not check status. So I went to the normal site, waited a few minutes for the thing to load, pecked my way through the menu on my Treo and found out the flight was seriously delayed. I immediately called home, alerted my son not to leave too soon to pick me up, and went to the flight monitors which only stated the flight was delayed.

Okay. Lots of passengers are eavesdropping on my conversation and start bumming out and dialing to warn their pickups that they too will be delayed. Second beef: Is there anyone at the gate making announcements? No. So I go to the ticket counter where a very bored guy confirms that indeed the flight is delayed. Finally, after he got tired of one individual after another asking him what was going on, he made an announcement, well after the original departure time.
Ticked off, I fired up the laptop, logged into Southwest.com and tried to send an email to them to essentially say, “Hey, would be kind if you warned passengers on a timely basis about delays so they can make plans, etc.” No serious rant, just a suggestion. Steven O’Grady makes the same.
And then I find this, my third beef:

E-mail Policy – Why We Don’t Accept E-mail

Call us traditional, but we elect to steer clear of the chat-style, respond-on-demand, quick casual format and focus on meaningful Customer dialogue. This is not because we don’t care. It’s because that style counters our commitment to Customer Service.

Our Customers deserve accurate, specific, personal, and professionally written answers, and it takes time to research, investigate, and compose a real business letter. We answer every letter we receive in the order it arrives, and we streamline in order to keep our costs low, our People productive, our operating efficiency high, and our responses warm and personal.”

Great, except the customer service line closed at 5 pm. Losers. So I go to their blog to vent my spleen and knock off a few hats and I find this under the rules of engagement, my fourth beef:

“One final disclaimer — the Southwest Blog is not the forum to address personal Customer Service issues. All of us have “day jobs,” and we simply don’t have the resources through this blog to resolve individual concerns. Even though this is not the forum, Southwest is eager to resolve your concerns. Our Customer Relations/Rapid Rewards folks want to assist you, and you can contact them by mail at Southwest Airlines, Customer Relations/Rapid Rewards, P.O. Box 36647, Dallas, Texas 75235-6647; by phone at (214) 792-4223; or by fax at (214) 792-5099. For reservations, please visit southwest.com or call our Reservations Center at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792).”

Okay, so no email beefs. No blog beefs (but I can submit a funny caption to their photo contest and read about the forthcoming Chili cookoff). Bottom line: pick up the phone (when we’re answering it) or lick a stamp. So progressive. This is one of the existential horrors of the travel life.

Just for grins I went to southwestsucks.com. They get bonus points for registering that domain:

Southwest Airlines strives to maintain a high level of Customer Service and is proud of its corporate reputation and responsiveness to its Customers. As part of that effort, Southwest wants to control the release of inaccurate and irresponsible information about the Company via the Internet. If you would like more information on Southwest, please go to www.southwest.com.”

So I’ll sound off here.

There isn’t a single airline except for JetBlue that at one point or another flipped me out into vows of “never again.” I was able to avoid United for a decade. I cheered when TWA died. I’ll suffer, but not in silence. And I’ll continue to fly on Southwest, the Greyhound of our times, wedged into the center seat with the wheeled baggage people, the babbling cell phone teenage girls, the angry salarymen and the Clampetts, figuring out their delays on my own.

Austin is watching

Funny how suddenly Austin, Texas has surpassed New York City and Durham, N.C. as the place sending the most traffic to this blog. The volume of traffic coming from Dell has been stepping up since last month’s proactive support post and with the launch of Dell’s blog earlier this week, as well as its stepped up activity in the blogosphere, I guess I now know why. Stay tuned for Lenovo’s blog play. Let’s just say it will be different, not built atop Telligent, and focused on a different mission. It should have gone out the door sooner, but let’s just write the delay off to my turning into Massive Headwound Harry after the Memorial Day bicycle incident.

On my way back to Cape Cod now. EVDOing from the Southwest lounge at RDU airport on my X60s, back to RTP on Monday, where the state pastime is perspiring.

Lost archives

I had dinner with Bob Carrigan, President of IDG Communications last night in Cary, NC. We caught up — Bob was my boss of bosses back in my brief IDG tenure at CXO last year — and he asked what I thought about AOL’s move to drop the garden walls and go free. Bob is ex-AOL and a keen follower of the company, so we got into a discussion about cost walls and ad inventory and eventually the discussion turned to Jason Calacanis’ move to revive the Netscape brand as a Digg-like news site.

This got me to thinking of old 1990s web brands and their potential for a second chance. Examples? Wired News getting reunited with Wired Mag after one of the dumber divorces in dot.com history. What about the archives of the Industry Standard? Matt McAllister at Yahoo — also ex-IDG, where he was the online GM at InfoWorld — and I talked years ago about reviving the Standard, which Matt managed. I was chatting with a colleague at lunch and recounted the famous “process is for people who step out of the shower to take a piss” line that I found in a great and hysterical column at the Standard in ’99. I’d love to link to it, but it is as if the entire archive has vanished, poof, into the dustbin.

Thanks to Bob for the iTunes gift of the Boston bluegrass band, Crooked Still. Bob is a mean banjo player, an instrument I flirted with in my youth but gave up due to incurable left-handedness.

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