Has the LUV Gone Out of Southwest Airlines?


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Are left-brained MBA types running amok at Southwest? A change to their preboarding practice is a good example of analysis that forgot to take emotion into consideration.

Southwest has been under some pressure over the past few years to update its “cattle car” boarding practices. I couldn’t agree more that it’s annoying to have to arrive early and then stand in a boarding line (A/B/C) to ensure getting a decent seat.

All credit to Southwest for doing a careful analysis, and concluding it needed to change. That’s good Voice of Customer work, in my book.

While still not offering reserved seats, at least now passengers can receive a boarding pass with a letter and number, and will board in the order they checked in. Consumers applauded the change.

But airline management also reduced preboarding privileges for families, and that hasn’t been well received. Families with children four years old and under will now board after the “A” group (unless they happen to get a coveted “A” boarding pass, then they’ll board with the others holding “A” passes).

Southwest says they did this for productivity reasons. But they forgot to take into account the emotional side of things. If you’re travelling with small children, the last thing you want to do is get split up. Boarding first eliminates that risk.

And you also don’t want to be in the middle of a pack of people while trying to get your kids settled down. Boarding first, while perhaps not quite as productive (I’d like to see the analysis), is a stress reliever before and during the boarding process.

Now, my son is past four and would just as soon sit somewhere else and listen to his iPod these days. But if I was traveling with a small child today, I’d think twice before booking Southwest.

C’mon, Southwest. Don’t forget to show your passengers some LUV!


  1. Bob

    And then there are the Fashion Police that Southwest is apparently employing these days too. And this from the airline that started out with stewardesses wearing hot pants and go-go boots!

    Things just aren’t the same anymore! Sigh.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Southwest did a good job recovering from an incident by one over zealous employee.

    I think people will forgive isolated incidents and mistakes like this, especially if a sincere apology is made.

    But customers are less forgiving on major policy changes like the preboarding changes regarding families.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom


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