Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Southwest Airlines and a Customer Service Fail

Hey Southwest!  The kid who apparently
imagined her allergic reaction on your plane
is a four year old girl who looks like this.
Oh Southwest!

I was really giving you a pass on the whole cat allergic reaction incident which occurred this past Sunday.  I really was.  When I typed up my polite letter inquiring if there was any way to avoid being on a plane with an animal in the future I was honestly hoping that that was a possibility.  I'd read online that you sometimes had pet free flights, and I was hopeful... but the internet is the internet, so I thought I would send an email to you, explain what happened, and see if it was true.

I didn't mention the not-so-great parts about flying with you, because it seemed beside the point.  After all, it wasn't your fault that the first two flight attendants on the first two legs of our trip were the type of people who, upon seeing young children headed towards their section of the aircraft, look as if they've sucked on a lemon.  I mean I have a two year old, and I know I can't get her to put on a brave face when confronted with something that utterly disgusts her... and the same seemed to be true of the two ladies who's lot it was to help us through the rather long hours of that particular Tuesday, three weeks ago.  Besides, I was completely out of line when I asked for that lid for the two year old's apple juice.  "Could we please get a lid for the apple juice?" apparently merits a disapproving glare and a terse, annoyed tone for the remainder of the trip, in some parts of the US (like when flying from Phoenix to Sacramento).

But I understand.  Despite my kids stellar performance on the flight out, even I wasn't looking forward to spending that many hours trapped in an enclosed space with them, unable to get up and walk around.  Road trips are one thing.  Being surrounded by 150 strangers who are oh-so-thrilled that there's a kid boarding their flight, and go out of their way to give the parents special wow-it's-great-you're-here glances?

That's something else entirely.

Still, I must admit I was surprised at your response.

Now I'm guessing that what you sent me is a boiler plate letter that your lawyers came up with.  Am I right?  And I'm guessing that the lawyer that came up with it probably doesn't have kids.  Or a spouse.  And maybe isn't friends with people with actual emotions?  I'm just guessing here.

Because telling a mom that it's unlikely that her child had an allergic reaction because the air filters on the plane filter out 99.7% of pollutants kind of makes it sound like you're doubting her story.  It makes it seem like your implying that she imagined watching her child struggle to breath for two plus hours when you go on and on, for paragraphs about how unlikely it is that the child reacted to an animal being on the same flight.  Especially when you throw in the part about how it's more likely that the kid was reacting from hair on the person sitting next to her (by the way, that was me, and no, my clothing weren't shedding pet dander, thank you very much).

Pointing out that no one has had a "catastrophic" event from pet dander doesn't help either.  Because guess what?  I wasn't afraid my child was going to die from her pet dander allergies.  But I bet she remembers struggling to breath for hours for a very, very long time.  I bet she remembers being frightened and sick.  She's still talking about it today, on and off, all day long.  She's referring to it, all on her own, as the "incident."

I have to admit, I was shocked by the insensitivity of your letter.  I don't know what I was expecting.  A simple answer to whether or not it was possible to avoid flights with animals.  And I guess you answered that in the midst of your explanation.  No... It's not possible and yes, we'd like to cover our butts with this lovely letter our lawyers prepared.

I have another theory as well though.  You see, you can't make money charging people with allergies extra.  That would make you look like even bigger jerks than you looked like by sending me today's email.  But you can make a pretty penny ferrying pets across the country.  And so the pet free flights become a thing of the past.  And I can drug my kid until she can't stand up if we need to fly (let's face it, those "allergy medications" you suggested in your letter, and which I ended up having to use, are pretty horrible in their own right).

But I have one last question for you.  If your air filters are so awesome at sucking pollutants out of the air, why is smoking outlawed on flights? (Paul says I need to point out that this is sarcasm...) Could it be that air filtration isn't all that fool proof.

While writing this, I couldn't help but thinking of the cats I've had over the years, and their reactions to being put in a crate and taken anywhere.  It was never pretty.  It usually involved shedding major amounts of fur in the thirty minute drive from our house to the vets office.  And while you may doubt the possibility of that cat dander staying in the air, I experienced the result first hand while watching my daughter wheeze her way from Las Vegas to Detroit.  Thanks for that.  And thanks for the condescending tone of your response to my questions.  I guess we were just that lucky .3%.  Or maybe the actual implementation of the air filtration isn't as perfect as you would suggest.

Anyways, awesome job on customer service Southwest.  It totally made my day.

I would totally almost recommend you to my readers... okay that's not true at all.  I would have recommended you, with your cute little heart logo, until I received your response.  Now I wouldn't recommend you to my most grumpy commenter.  And that's saying something.


  1. Wow, breathtaking stupidity, and from the service industry, no less.

    Should take these people and send them to NBCC SA for a crash course on conflict resolution.

  2. I honestly don't know anyone would would recommend Southwest. Years ago they had a reality show and even on that show they treated their customers like crap. Everyone I know who has flown them says they're terrible.

  3. Great job Cammie! Haven't flown SW in years. They are always more expensive even with the bags fly free program. Now just another reason to stay away!

    Hope all is better. Being at home is a soother in itself.

  4. I hope you actually send that letter!!!

  5. Wow. I have generally had luck with United (though they tend to be expensive and tack on tons of fees), but once the plane was overbooked and so they were offering an upgrade to first class on the later flight (plus a free flight at a later date). Once when our plan was cancelled due to a storm on Christmas eve, because stupid lawschool had finals the day before, they got us on an American Airlines flight for one leg of the flight at no extra cost to us. And once when I flew at 30 weeks pregnant with a 18month old on my lap, the flight attendant couldn't give me enough cookies and pretzels for the little man and myself (the ginger cookies actually did waylay some morning sickness for me, and kept the little man super happy to be eating cookies).

    We of course have had some difficulties, mostly with the Chicago O'hare airport where they let us off at one gate and then we had to traverse the entire length of the airport (pregnant or with a small child) in 10 minutes to make our connection. And I think there were a few times when we were met with less than stellar service when asking about getting seats together or I remember a few times the made us change seats, because that 20 pound baby on my lap is really going to change the weight load of the plane.

    So no where is perfect, you just got to find the company who treats you right. Also stay away from EA (electronic arts), BoA (Bank of America), and Century Link (phone company) if you want good customer service. They are so bad that consumer reports reported them for worst customer service.

  6. Fascinating that Bank of America is said to have bad customer service. I switched to them about six months ago and it has been fantastic. A nice guy spent two hours helping me get all set up and straightened out. Twice I've had to call their debit protection hotline to get my cards pre-approved for international travel and it's been fine and the workers on the phone have been friendly and competent.

    In response to the original post, maybe if you called them you could talk to a real person. It's usually the case that when you email a company the first response is a form letter.

  7. Oh Cam that must've been so hard :( The airline sound like complete eejits. I hope Sadie's feeling better now.

  8. I'm a bit confused about why you would expect anything different in the letter as far as admitting fault is concerned. To admit fault is to be sued. Don't blame them. Blame the sue-happy society we've built. It is because of experience that they know they have to send it to the lawyers not because they want to be unreasonable and harsh.

    Ofcourse, you should still fly with someone else next time. Not because of the letter, but if they won't provide the service then you shouldn't provide the business.

  9. Rachel, I expected them to respond politely, without condescending. I live in a house where the conversations are about law.... oh I don't know... 50% of the time. I've helped my husband study for his tests. I've read far more about law in the past two years than I ever would have chosen to on my own. Yet there are still ways to be polite, without opening oneself up to lawsuits. They could have answered my question without being rude.

  10. I'm sorry, Cam. I've always loved Southwest and have relatives who work for them. In my experience at least, they're the only airlines whose flight attendants have been genuinely nice to my kids. But that is just not cool. I'm really sorry. Poor little one. I hate this "your kid didn't really have an allergic reaction" bullsh*t. I got that when Liam had a reaction to a vaccine too. "OH, you mean we could have been at home playing instead of strapping him screaming to a papoose board at the ER? THANK you!" JEEZ. Pass the letter on. Southwest is better than that.

  11. In their defense, it is unlikely that she had a reaction to the recycled air, as those filters are pretty strong. However that does not rule out the air that has not yet gone through the filters. The smoking example is a good one. If you were to smoke on a plane, you would notice that the smoke is not instantaneously swallowed up by the ventilation system.

    The issue then is not that she was subject to the recycled air, but the uncycled air. She was trapped in what amounts to a large hallway with a feline for an extended period of time. The recycling of the air through the filters probably helped some.

    This is the danger of mass transit with allergies. I know some people have to limit their airlines based on whether or not they ever serve peanuts as the dust from the little bags is enough to provoke a severe reaction even if it was on a previous flight.

    Now I better go hide since I poked the mama bear.


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