I don’t often travel Southwest Airlines. In fact the last time I flew them was at least a decade ago. A number of my friends frequently fly and enjoy Southwest. So when Southwest had the best flight and price options for a recent trip to San Antonio, so I booked my flight with them. Frankly, I was anticipating this new experience to see why Southwest is so popular.
Before my flight, I stopped by an airport bookstore and fortuitously selected Frank Luntz’s book What Americans Really Want to read on my trip. Little did I know that right in the introduction of the book he discusses why Southwest is the top airline in America for 5 years in a row.
My trip from DC to San Antonio was uneventful, which these days is a good thing. We boarded quickly, the door shut and we immediately backed out of the gate and headed for the runway. Fast, simple, on-time on both legs of my out-bound trip, not to mention the friendly service and added value of free check bags. Expectations met. Satisfaction achieved.
Again somewhat fortuitously, I met a Continental Airlines pilot while at my conference in San Antonio, and asked him about differences in airlines. Somewhat enviously he informed me that Southwest pilots get paid the most for being on-time, but that legacy carriers, such as Continental, still pay pilots by the hour, so the longer they are in the cockpit the more they are paid. The sounded rather analogous to lawyers who charge flat fees and those who charge by the hour. No wonder legal clients are asking for flat fee arrangements.
My return trip today was also on-time, but did include some interesting events and observations.
As our plane barreled down the runway and the nose wheel left terra firma, the cockpit door suddenly came swinging open. Those of us in the front of the plane were quite startled, and the shocked flight attendant in the forward jump-seat used his best reach to hold the door shut until we were about 30 seconds into the air when he unbuckled himself in order to latch the door. A security breach certainly, and probably something that doesn’t happen too frequently these days. Is it something to report or will it be self-reported and investigated. I keep thinking it is akin to a lawyer momentarily overdrawing a trust account, but putting the money back the same day. Is it “no harm, no foul” or is it a reportable offense?
I also learned that Southwest invests in customer service and comfort over their own needs. I observed that the flight announcement boards are the old fashioned kind that you manually insert the numbers and letters rather than a computer screen. Out of date maybe, but they are the only airline to provide rows of comfortable easy chairs with convenient electrical outlets for customers’ computers and phone rechargers. Again, I analogize to lawyers and wonder if we adopt new technology to help our clients or to make it easier on ourselves? Sure, both reasons could apply, but it is as apparent to legal clients as it was to me today?
I also liked their boarding system, where you line up by number in 2 long lines next to numbered sign posts, then select your own seat when you board the plane. It is faster and seems more fair than the group number boarding system United uses or the row by row system others use. I haven't thought how this applies to law firms yet, but I like the concept!
Finally, as I was waiting for my connecting flight, the gate agent announced they had regretfully overbooked the plane and needed volunteers. Two and a half hours later I was in the air on a later flight with $450 in future flight vouchers in my pocket. I got paid for their mistake. I noted they did not give a refund or a cash voucher. It was for future service. As we left the gate I couldn’t help but think about lawyers and their mistakes. Lawyers often write off that portion of a fee related to a minor mistaken, in essence, to show the client we take responsibility for the mistake. I’m wondering if a voucher for future service may be a better system. I’m still not convinced this will work, but my Southwest experience has me thinking about it!