Southwest Airlines has cancelled 20,000 flights. Now for the really bad news



Southwest Airlines

Let’s start with the good news.

Business travel is (allegedly) back, and Southwest Airlines has finally committed itself to giving customers the basic technology they expect on a flight.

The airline is spending $2 billion on enhanced — and even free — wifi on its planes. It’s finally installing power ports, too. Yes, Southwest planes were always known for having no outlets and now, voilá, USB-A and USB-C ports.

Now there’ll be more entertainment options, new “self-service capabilities,” and even free iPads.

Actually, I may be entirely wrong about that last one. But as Southwest announced all this, it became possible to forgive the airline for cancelling 20,000 flights between June and Labor Day.

It’s not as if Southwest doesn’t want to operate those flights, but it just doesn’t have the people — or the planes — to fly them.

Now that we’ve mentioned people — an underrated commodity in today’s economy — perhaps it’s wise to consider that just as Southwest frantically tries to hire thousands, 20% of those thousands simply don’t turn up on their first day at work.

But wait, I hear you cry, haven’t the workers who are actually there just agreed to a new contract?

That was the news in March. Customer service employees had said (a tentative) yes to a new four-year contract.

Stability, especially among the workforce, is an utter vital to a modern airline. You already have the feeling, though, that I’m bringing you bad news. Headlines can do that.

Also: United, Delta and American Airlines customers may soon have a scary dilemma

It seems, you see, that those very same customer service employees have said (a definitive) no to the deal their union negotiated.

As the Dallas Morning News reported, everyone is baffled. Who wouldn’t want raises, bonuses and overtime protections?

And when I say “everyone is baffled,” neither the company nor the workers’ own union seem to be clear about what’s going on. Especially as travelers are desperate for customer service and really aren’t getting much of it from airlines currently.

I fear some may wish to hint at reasons for the sudden rejection of the contract. Inflation is now rampant. The raises were 6%. What good is that if inflation is raging at 8% or 9%?

Moreover, if you know that your employer still has 1,000 fewer customer service employees than it needs, wouldn’t you be tempted to hold out for a little more?

Also: Southwest Airlines made a big decision that’ll annoy customers who need a rest

There’s another aspect, though, that may be significant here. When your whole brand is based on its sense of customer service, when you present yourself as the caring alternative — quite something for an airline — your need for humans to deliver on that promise is enormous.

At some point, perhaps those humans realize just how much you need them. And that’s the time they make their point.

And that’s the time it could really cost you.


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