Southwest Airlines gets A+ for this storm effort

by Chris on December 22, 2009

How Southwest Airlines handled customer service during the 2009 Christmas week snowstorm.

Last flight out of Philly

Hey, airlines – want to engender holiday cheer during a Nor’easter? Take a cue from Southwest, who went above and beyond the call of duty during the monster East Coast storm, at least based on my sister’s experience.

My sister, Cat Gray, and her boyfriend Tom Ardecki braved two-foot snow drifts and near-blizzard conditions to reach the Philadelphia airport on Saturday morning, only to find that most flights were cancelled. As they stood in the Southwest check in line, which stretched well down the terminal, attendants plucked out the lucky folks heading south.

“They told us they were taking any of us that had a shot of getting out,” my sister said.

Once on the plane to Ft. Myers, passengers were kept entertained by the flight attendants. “They asked us if any of us wanted a white Christmas,” Cat said. “We screamed ‘NO!”

It wasn’t that easy, however. As the storm strengthened, the captain came out and told the passengers what to expect: an auxillery engine needed fixed, the windshield needed cleared and the plane had to edge its way to the other side of the airport for a lengthy de-icing. “If there is anyone out there who feels they can’t sit on the plane this long, you need to consider getting off now,” he said.

Surprisingly, no one got off, my sister said. “We appreciated being kept in the loop.” Passengers were encouraged to use cell phones and move around during the 3-hour wait on the tarmac. Two planes away from the de-icer, the captain announced the runway was shut down, but they were going to try to make it.

Finally, the flight took off, to the cheers of passengers. The flight attendants kept the mood festive, giving out two rounds of sodas and peanuts and a graham cracker pack, and praising their Southwest Sully. “That’s a feast compared to other airlines,” said Cat, a silver member on US Air.

Overall, she had no complaints about her experience. Then today, she received this letter from Melissa Chalupa in the aptly named “proactive customer service” department:

“I’m sorry your trip was delayed when your flight was caught in the middle of the Nor’Easter on December 19.  Based on the latest reports, Philadelphia received its heaviest snowfall for this time of year, and the second greatest snowfall in the city’s history.” Then she gets personal:

“As a young child growing up in a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I thoroughly enjoyed the snow—the more the better.  That said, working at the airport in that part of the country, I also remember that winter weather could really cause challenges for our operations and that’s exactly what happened Saturday morning—your patience while you waited is greatly appreciated.  Though we may not be able to control Mother Nature, we do have some say in the way we show our appreciation of your valued patronage.”

In the end, both Cat and Tom received $100 vouchers. “I was shocked,” she said. “Honestly, we expected problems. But they went above and beyond.”

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

chris December 22, 2009 at 6:32 pm

That sounds like a real + from WN. I’m critical of many of the things they do (not my cup of tea) but handling CS issues is better than I get as a DL Platinum.

Heck take a look at the ridiculously bad rebooking “assistance” from AA. It covers 3 days total (12/22-24) for the big storm coming through the Midwest right now. DL/UA have 6 day waivers & include the Eastern Seaboard because they understand the impact(s) are more and reach more than just the affected states!

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Christine December 22, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I heart Southwest. I wish it were convenient to take here in New York. I think it is coming to La Guardia, though. Yay!

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Chris December 25, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Chris – It is amazing how different the airlines are in their policies, isn’t it? They must think that people don’t notice. In this age of social media, that’s a money-losing assumption.

Christine – Yeah, I’ll be excited to be back in a Southwest market when we return to Philly. It’s at BWI and IAD, but those are fairly inconvenient for us now.

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