June 10, 2015
Southwest Airlines, VP Customer Relations & Rapid Rewards
P. O. Box 33647
Dallas TX, 75235
Mr. Gary C. Kelly
Chairman, Southwest Airlines
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing you today in regards to the pattern of poor customer service that I have received from your airline this week. This makes the third attempt that I have made to raise these issues with you through Customer Service, including an attempt to speak with your customer service reps on the ground in Orlando and online via your online submission form.
On June 7, 2015, I flew from San Juan to Orlando on the 10 am flight. The exact flight number is 1344, and our confirmation number is 8Q4JVC. My mother and I were returning form a cruise, and had experienced seven straight sleepless nights due to loud and unruly passengers. We had hoped that once we were with Southwest, our troubles were over. We were unable to board any earlier than C group since while we were onboard our cruse ship we could not check-in earlier. Since we were the last to board the plane, we had to take any seat that was available on the full flight. I really miss the days when I could expect to ever board with the “A” group on Southwest, but sadly those days are gone.
As it turned out, we were seated next to a party of four adults (who spoke fluent English and Spanish) and three young children. A young woman had an eight month old child sitting in her lap. Prior to takeoff-one of the flight attendants (FA) instructed the young woman to place the child in a safer position, and despite speaking and understanding English, the young woman ignored her. The FA made no other attempt to speak with her.
After we were in the air, the child started screaming in a high-pitched “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” that lasted almost the entire flight. I sat diagonally behind the girl and I can assure you that the child was not upset, did not need her diaper changed, nor did she suffer from the pain of the ear pressure changing (until our final descent, when it’s possible that it cause her distress). The young woman never made any attempt to soothe or attend the child, nor did the two middle aged women in her party who were seated directly behind her. Nor did the young man who was seated next to me who spoke perfect English to me throughout the flight. In short—the child just screamed for screaming sake and none of the adults in the party took responsibility for attending to her.
My mother was seated directly in front of the child, and at one point the child grabbed my mother’s hair and pulled large chunks of it. My mother has twice survived cancer that included chemotherapy and the complete loss of her hair. As a result, her scalp is very tender. To make things worse, both of us are living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which makes very stressful situations hard for both of us to bear. With a week’s worth of poor sleep from our cruse added in, we were extremely miserable with the constant “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” in our ears. The physical pain was also unbearable. We would have loved to explain that to your FA, but we didn’t have the opportunity.
For a portion of the flight, we experienced turbulence, and for her safety and ours, the FA was unable to walk to our seats. It would’ve been unreasonable for us to risk the FA’s safety and everyone else’s and buzz her each time the child screamed to ask for her assistance. As the flight was either almost or literally full, asking her to move us would probably also be unreasonable. But we will never know, because due to the FA’s behavior towards my mother, we didn’t get a chance. At one point during the almost three-hour flight, the child grabbed my mother’s hair, and she summoned the FA and explained what was going on. The FA’s response? A dismissive and flippant “She’s just eight months old!” implying that my mother was being unsympathetic to the child and her complaint was unreasonable. She left before my mother had a chance to explain her situation and why the screeching was so painful. My mother gave up on trying to speak with the FA when we weren’t experiencing turbulence because the FA spent so much time chatting and laughing with her coworker in front of the cockpit. No wonder it took her almost an hour to bring me the Dr. Pepper I had ordered.
The FA did not ask the family to soothe the child. She did not offer any words of sympathy to either of us, explaining that the flight was full and there was little that she could do to help us. Had she at least done any of those things, I would call that good customer service and I would not be writing you today. As we began our descent, the child started to scream again, and the FA came back to the young woman and told her to give the child water to help with the ear pain. The FA acted as if it was the only time the child screamed, and acted as if this were the only reason the child made noise. I sat behind the child, and the between the screeching she was smiling, laughing and giggling. Since the FA spent so little time anywhere around our seats even when we did not have turbulence, I guess she didn’t realize that we’d endured three hours of it. It may have been bearable for the few seconds or minutes the FA heard it.
I again received poor customer service when we landed in Orlando. I went immediately to the Customer Service desk hoping to resolve the issue. Despite living in Mississippi currently, I am a Houstonian, and I have flown Southwest more times than I can possibly count over the past three decades. As a freelance writer who specializes in business topics, I regularly use Southwest as an example of maintaining excellent customer service while watching a company’s bottom line. In addition, it’s a source of pride to me as a Texan and Houstonian to say that Southwest is a Texas company. I’m proud of the fact that during your airline’s early days when competing airlines engaged in slimy business tactics to keep Southwest from figuratively getting off of the ground,, Houston’s own Hobby Airpot sustained the airline. When people complain about their flying nightmares, I laugh and say “Sucker! You should’ve gone Southwest—they wouldn’t pull that crap on you!”
My assumption, as I approached the Customer Service desk, was that this particular FA’s behavior was an anomaly at Southwest. The years of effort your airline put in building a brand centered on customer service is admirable, but when your employees act in a way that dilutes that brand, attention should be called to that fact. I assumed that I could file a written report, your airline would say “Nope, that is not the way we treat our customers!” “We dropped the line this time, and I’m sorry you experienced that.” I assumed that the airline would follow up by investigating get the FA’s side of the story, and it would be a learning experience. Boy, was I ever wrong.
I explained my experience to the woman at the Customer Service (CS) desk, and I could tell by her body language that she was completely nonplussed. Her response was “What do you want me to do?” It was not a “How would you like me to respond to your complaint?’ response. It was the same passive shrug you get from a teenager asking “Well, what do you want me to do about it?” I told her that I wanted to file a written complaint against the FA, and when I told the desk clerk, she said that I could not do that on the ground at Orlando. “You will have to contact Customer Service,” giving me a business card size card with “We want your feedback!’ written on the card. This was the point that I dropped my jaw and realized I wasn’t dealing with a single employee with poor customer service skills or a bad attitude. I realized to my horror that two things were going on.
One possibility is that the Southwest I knew where employees were empowered to make decisions on the spot and resolve issues at the front line was gone. Either her power to assist me with my issue on the ground, as soon as I brought it to the airline’s attention, had been taken from from her by those up the chain of command and all that she is allowed to do is give me a business card If that is the case, that is not by any means an acceptable business practice. It is also an unprofessional way to treat your frontline employees who have to deal with angry people like me on a daily basis.
The other possibility is that there are at least two Southwest employees who could not be bothered with aiding an issue like mine. If this is the case, you need to be aware that your employees are providing poor customer service, and that it is ruining the brand that Southwest has built up over decades as a customer service driven company. As their employer, you have a responsibility to address this issue.
I was so furious as I walked away from the CS desk at Orlando that I Tweeted @SouthwestAir asking if this was standard practice for customer service, complete with a picture of the card. And what did I hear from the Twitter account? Crickets chirping. I compared with American Airlines, who immediately jumped on an issue we had in Anchorage Alaska by answering with a noncommittal and totally professional “No, that is not the way we do business! Sorry you’re having a problem!”
I again received poor customer service the following Monday when I attempted to contact you through the online Customer Service form. After filling out my personal details, booking number, flight number, Rapid Rewards number I was shocked to be told that the submission form only takes 2500 characters. As a writer who is paid per word, I can confidently tell you that my submission would be more than 2500 words, let alone characters. I simply wrote in the submission form “My issue will take more than 2500 characters to address. Is there another email address that I can send it to?” The impression I got from the form was “Hey, we’re really too busy for long paragraphs and such, so make it short, snappy and don’t make it long for us to read!”
I again received poor customer service when I received the automated response from the online submission form. The online confirmation page for the submission form requested 48 hours for a response, which would really be a short one given my question. The confirmation email I got on June 8th from email@example.com, however asked for up to 30 days for a response. That’s a huge difference in response time. Do you honestly think that I’m going to wait an entire month for a response that consists of either “No, sorry,” or a simple email address? For your records, the file reference number regarding my online submission is #274617902261.
I considered calling CS, but when I went online I noticed an alarming amount of posts on consumer websites from other passengers complaining about the long wait lines to even get a CS representative on the line. In addition, your airline had already provided me poor customer service by 1. Your rude FA, 2. Providing me no way to resolve my issue in person back in Orlando 3 Chopping my issue into a paltry 2500 characters limit. Frankly, I’m way past the point that I’m willing to do anything that conveniences your airline. In addition, I want to ensure that every word I speak to you is recorded. I am so disgusted with the abysmally poor customer service your airline has provided me this past week, that I don’t want anything I have to say to be taken out of context. It infuriates me that I have had to spend over an hour writing this epic almost novel length letter to you because your CS keeps brushing me off and making it difficult for me to get any type of resolution to my issue. If I were paranoid, I would start to think that you’re doing this on purpose to keep me from addressing this issue. As it is, I’m chalking it up to laziness, unprofessionalism and indifference.
I’ll conclude this saga by answering what your CS rep on the ground at Orlando asked me “What do you want me to do about it?” I’ll tell you exactly what I want your airline to do.
I want an apology. I’ve given you numerous ways to contact me in this letter in order to do so.
I want at least one person employed by Southwest to act in a professional and responsible manner. I want at least one person to sit down and hear (well, now it’s more like “read”) the entire story of the abysmal customer service I have experienced from your airline. I want to be treated as a person who deserves at least a modicum amount of respect. Never mind being treated like a valued customer, I just want to be treated like a human being instead of an annoyance.
I want you to admit how absurd it is that a simple complaint has snowballed out of proportion into the letter that you are reading right now. I want an apology for the time that I took out of my work week to write this letter, and for the hours of work that I’ve lost writing this letter, refreshing my memory of correct business letter writing techniques that thank God went away with email writing, hunting down paper and toner for my printer, purchasing a stamp and envelope to put this snail mail letter into (because it’s apparently 1995), and driving to my local post office to ensure that I have sufficient postage. My only consolation I have from the lost hours of work is that I can use this experience as the basis for a host of trade publications on the results of providing poor customer service and diluting your brand as Southwest did this week by that poor customer service. Believe me, I’m well aware of the “irony” that I’m having to write Customer Service to detail a total lack of customer service
I want your airline to step up, put your big person pants on, grow a pair of cajones as we say in Texas, and take responsibility for the poor behavior your employees and your airline have exhibited this week. I want you to use this as a learning experience, and to do everything in your power to ensure that neither I (if I ever work up the nerve to fly Southwest again) nor any customer has to put up with the snowballed, repeated failures of customer service again.
Since your title indicates that you are in charge of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program, I am requesting that you cancel my enrollment in that service. I never fly frequently enough to accumulate them, but that is not the reason for my request. Given your track record this past week of brushing me off, I frankly don’t want to deal with a program that assumes I will be flying with your airline again, must less on a frequent basis. At this point, I don’t think that I’m willing to take the chance that I could have a similar experience (well, as I’m writing this, it’s really “experiences). Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
I don’t want a million dollars. I don’t want a free trip around the world on Southwest’s dime. I don’t want to shake down your airline. I want an admission that your company dropped the ball, acted repeatedly in an unprofessional manner, and a “mea cupla.” That will not cost your airline a single dime.
My question to you is—do you have the guts to do that? I await your response.