Southwest Airlines has a major problem and customers may not know

Side view of a Southwest Airlines plane.

Southwest Airlines / Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk

As we drift into difficult economic times, mutations from technology company wide.

For example, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is talking to employees to adjust their cultural compass and don’t think that joy automatically comes with money.

This worried me when I ran into complaints from pilots at Southwest Airlines.

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You might think that everything is back to normal. Why, Southwest only attracted a huge audience – some not of the positive kind – because Free ukelele on flights from Long Beach to Hawaii.

At the same time, however, its pilots were also having a picnic. They are holding banners which says: “Southwest Operations. From First to Worst.” And even more painful: “The mining culture is now the Southwest culture”.

The rally took place outside the so-called Spirit party in Nashville, where Southwest executives were celebrating record profits.

Customers may not know this is happening. That’s why pilots are picnicking. They want customers to be vigilant. They want them to be as angry as I am.

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I landed, you see, when a recent podcast featured the president of the Southwest Pilots Association, Casey Murray.

He describes Southwest as having gone from “a company that supports its employees to one that is supported by its employees.”

The airline, he said, “has no real vision, no real motivation.”

Flight to Funtown has been canceled

Let’s pause to remember What corporate culture can do. For example, in the case of Google, the implicit promise is always used that you will have fun (somewhat childish), while you have worked with very smart people doing very smart things and making a lot of money. confusing money.

Similar to Southwest, the promise is not only that you’ll like the people you’ve worked with, but that you’ll be able to interact with customers in a more personal way, while still being part of a very productive company. fruitful, profitable.

So here’s Murray, sounding a bit like a Googler: “The attack on culture has been going on for years.”

Pilots argue that Southwest’s technology simply isn’t up to the task of staffing effectively. To the point that pilots often change flights and feel out of place, sometimes unable to immediately return home.

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Curiously, Robert Jordan, who became the airline’s CEO earlier this year, agree that technology is not good enough. But when you’re running an airline that relies so heavily on great goodwill among employees – and a similar degree of goodwill among customers – how long can you keep people unhappy?

I asked the airline about their response to Murray’s criticism and ticket sales.

A spokesperson told me: “Southwest Airlines respects the right of Employees to express opinions. For more than 51 years, we have maintained a legendary and award-winning Southwest Culture that celebrates Con. our people and attract top talent.”

Therefore, it is clear that the airline realizes their culture is being criticized.

However, the spokesperson added: “In fact, our recent Southwest Spirit Party was attended by more than 4,000 Southwest Employees who came together to celebrate our airline. .”

A strong use of “in fact” there. Airlines seem to show that not everyone is so happy. But then the Southwest initiator was self-aware: “While we acknowledge that there is still a lot of work ahead of us to return to pre-pandemic operational reliability, we appreciate the work of the Joint Teams. continue to grow in serving our Customers and colleagues with Southwest Hospitality.”

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More money means more fun?

Of course the pilots wanted a new contract.

However, Murray points out that about 75% of Southwest employees currently have contracts under negotiation. “They are responsible for generating revenue,” he said. While, the union said, executives pay themselves hefty bonuses and throw parties to celebrate record profits.

It’s hard to think of airlines as tech companies, even as they become increasingly reliant on technology at every level of their business. However, some problems seem to exist that do not seem to be entirely different from Pichai and Google.

How do you react to the changes of the times by revitalizing your culture, so that employees don’t start grumbling?

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Murray is concerned that the airline is getting fewer referrals for potential pilot jobs. Is this also a cultural issue?

And this is perhaps his most cynical quote: “Our pilots are tired of saying, ‘I’m sorry.'”

Ultimately, the next few months can be a test. The question, however, may be whether customers care enough — or whether they see enough of the alleged cultural issues — to want to move their business.

Customers can claim that they prefer kind service and happier flight attendants. But, especially during a recession, do they only care about price?

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