by Kim Niemi
On a recent Southwest Airlines flight a judgment call by a gate agent incited an angry tweet from a passenger, which resulted in him being asked to leave the plane. Who was right and who was wrong?
All Duff Watson wanted was to board the plane with his priority status, as expected. And he wanted his two children to be able to board with him, but the airline wouldn’t allow it.
What’s a dissatisfied customer to do? Tweet his outrage, naturally. Watson mentioned the gate number and agent’s name in the tweet to Southwest, letting them know he was not happy about the situation.
He and his children finally boarded the plane, but then were asked to deplane by the agent who felt threatened and told him he would not be allowed to re-board until he deleted the tweet.
Seems the argument about priority boarding got a bit heated, leaving the gate agent uneasy once the tweets were added to the equation.
Unfortunately for Southwest, there was probably no way to win this one. When someone is determined to engage in social sabotage, sometimes all you can do is deal with the fallout.
Watson had already followed up his initial tweet with updates on the deplaning and the email apology he received from Southwest. A swift apology (with vouchers to boot) was the right thing for Southwest to do, but Watson clearly considered both gestures lame.
When a customer reaches a certain point of anger/rudeness, businesses are entitled to decline services if they choose (note how quickly airline staff were made aware of his tweet, btw). But in these times of instant communication, dissatisfaction too often goes viral – striking a chord with anyone who’s ever had a similarly bad experience.
So even if the airline was in the right to ask Watson to exit the plane to resolve the issue out of earshot of the other passengers, public opinion is a fickle beast. Luckily it doesn’t seem like their public reputation took much of a hit this time around – in fact, the airline posted a follow-up tweet and link to a press release about the incident:
Nicely done, Southwest.
As for Watson? Well, he claims he’ll never fly Southwest again. But who knows? Maybe he'll use those vouchers someday after all.
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