Southwest takes on seating controversy

Kudos again to the Southwest & the Southwest Airlines blog. On the same day the Wall Street Journal article appeared about the cease and desist letters they are sending out to companies which help customers secure "A" boarding seats, they post a blog entry addressing the issue.

I think it takes great courage for a company of Southwest’s stature to do this. Most companies are neither blogging nor participating in the Web 2.0 world in any other way. Or, they are doing it, but are being very cautious about it – that is, picking a non-controversial topic and staying away from the business issues. Case example here is Wells Fargo’s Guided by History blog.

[UPDATE, 06/08/06 – see comments below and this interview with Wells Fargo]

As a free market guy, I really do not have a problem with a company providing a valuable service for a fee, and do like the notion that these services exist to help me in a pinch. I also respect Southwest’s right to control its offering and enfore its terms & conditions as the law allows.

However, the right answer is finding out what Southwest’s customers want and how Southwest can best serve them. That is why taking this topic head-on with its blog is a great approach!

Yet, I do have some issues with Southwest’s blog post on this topic so far.

First, Jackie Huba at the Church of the Customer Blog hit the nail on the head her post Southwest gets an "A" for blogging about the seat controversy.  Be forthright on the topic, show both sides. Why was the WSJ article not referenced? Sure, it was not a positive article, but we all know it is out there! Referencing it and addressing any issues raised in the article is an important step toward establishing the credibility of your argument.

Second, where is Southwest in the conversation? Numerous comments already exist. Support seems to exist for Southwest’s current seating policy in this comment thread. Ideas are also posited about how to handle the situation. Some questions are raised. The author is not present in the conversation. One Southwest employee posted a comment, but did not seem to be a person in a role that would address this area. It feels like they are either not listening or they are waiting for a staff meeting in the morning before responding. Or, they are just posting, reading the responses, and then are moving on without a dialog. Any of these approaches misses out on a great opportunity to engage in and learn from a conversation.

I applaud Southwest for the effort and the courage to take on topics such as the seating controversy. I do hope they continue to advance the blog more toward a dialog. I believe strongly that if they do, they will reap futher rewards by providing even better service to their customers and driving even more loyalty.

— bkm

  • Brian,
    Great post!

    I had not seen that Wells Fargo blog. And you are right, they really aren’t engaging in any type of conversation with customers with it.

  • Brian –

    We read and appreciate your comments we’re working to correct it….you’re right about linking to the article and we are going to reference it in a comment on the post. To be honest, WSJ is subscription only and we thought linking to it would be frustrating since most can’t access it. We also have something else up our sleeve in response to the whole seating policy thing…so be on the lookout for that.


  • Jackie,
    Thanks for your comment. The Wells Fargo case is interesting. Read this interview here ( with their head of blogging and RSS. He really does understand what Web 2.0 is about and the potential. It just seems the financial institutions are really being careful by dipping their toes in, rather than taking a deeper plunge like Southwest. I hope Wells Fargo gets comfortable fast – it would be good to see more institutions embracing the opportunity.

    — brian

  • Hi Angela,
    Thanks for the comment and for listening. I am a big fan of Southwest and travel with you a lot, both on business and with my family. The WSJ is a tough one indeed; one way to handle it is to put a “subscription only” qualifier next to the link. WSJ has been that way ever since they launched on the Web.

    I am looking forward to your response to the seating policy thing. I hope you are getting some good feedback on this topic on your blog. When you make your announcement on the seating policy resolution, I would love to know what, if any, impact the feedback on your blog had.

    I’m glad Southwest is out in the blogosphere and that you’re adapting along the way. It’s all part of the fun and the opportunity. Best of luck.

    — brian

  • Hey Brian,

    Thanks for your comments and suggestions. Just like me, Southwest may not be perfect, but I feel we do try to be real and honest and hopefully keep learning.

    (If my husband is reading this, I am perfect all the time at home.)

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