Fallston Group

Building Strengthening & Defending reputations

Southwest Airlines Fails to Close Vital Communications Gap

Southwest Airlines is in trouble, under federal investigation and the lead story on most traditional mainstream media news outlets.

The real long-term crisis Southwest Airlines faces has nothing to do with the cold front that disrupted flights, caused computer glitches, or created staffing issues. Instead, the real crisis is the failure of leadership to communicate quickly and effectively to all of the micro communities that depended on Southwest Airlines, including all of its stranded and inconvenienced customers..

If Southwest had issued regular updates and explanations for the service disruptions, travelers could have planned accordingly. Instead, families are still stranded in airports without any plan of action – an issue which is costing them unnecessary amounts of time and money!

Customers who have had flights canceled have been waiting online (or on hold) for hours to speak with or interact with a ticket agent who, in many cases, cannot provide alternative transportation and logistics courier for days, if not weeks. Additionally, customers say they have waited hours on phone calls to the 800-line only to find the next available flights aren’t until after the New Year.

Let’s look at the Southwest Airlines communication timeline:

The Southwest website issued this statement with no updates since the initial post:

“Due to adverse weather events and their resulting effects, we are currently experiencing operational disruptions and are working diligently and safely to restore normal flight schedules as quickly as possible.”

It is one very long sentence (30 words) with no direction given to travelers left stranded.

On FACEBOOK: only one post (at 11:09 am EST Monday), with no updates:

“We continue to experience high call and social inquiry volumes. Please check your flight status and explore self-service options”. (Southwest Airlines | Book Flights, Make Reservations & Plan a Trip).

The FACEBOOK post has had 8.1K comments ranging from disappointment to outrage.

On Twitter, the same message has been posted with no additional updates.

If Southwest Airlines were issuing updates every hour, with information specific to each airport, travelers may still be grumpy but would be more understanding. Instead, travelers are left in the dark. Without the proper knowledge of how to proceed, frustration and anger escalate. The company’s mission statement is “to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”

The lack of reliability may hurt the company, but the lack of communication may prove most harmful to Southwest Airlines’ reputation in the long run. Remember, crises cost organizations time, money, customers and careers – Southwest Airlines has traveled nonstop down this trajectory of failure.

Southwest Airlines executives must open the lines of communication quickly to offer empathy and explanations. Their actions will decide where the airlines’ image lands in 2023. Remember the general basics of the Resilient Moment Communications Model:

  • What happened?
  • What caused it?
  • What are the short and long-term effects?
  • What’s being done now?
  • What’s being done, or what do we need to do, in the future?

If Southwest Airlines quickly embraces this communications model, perhaps they can at least begin to build the trust they’ve already withdrawn from their reputational piggy bank!

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