Friday, May 22, 2009

Southwest Airlines, Attitude is Everything!

It's a rarity to find helpful, energetic, and positive employees in the airline industry in this day and age, but I can say with assurance that every Southwest employee we met during our recent travels to from Denver to Chicago Midway to Albany, NY was all of the above. We always try to cheer them up with Life is Good stickers when we travel, but this group needed little encouragement.

And it wasn't just the employees that made this company desirable for travelers with disabilities. Although the frame of our Ti-Lite didn't fit in the closet (center folding chairs would), the wheels fit in the overhead, we always got on first (no matter how many elderly were waiting in airport chairs) to get the bulkhead seat, the bulkhead seat arm rests raised (unheard of! although granted this left us without food trays), and without a first class section, Craig could wheel right up to the front row without the "Hannibal Lector" aisle chair. Additionally, unlike every other airline, every aircraft was the Boeing 737-200 so we knew what to expect every time.

A few little details were consistent every time as well- there was never a drink cart to watch your elbows for; attendants asked your order personally and carried trays of drinks back at a time. The start up safety instructions were always a little different and unique, as each lead attendant added their personal style to the announcements, making them more tolerable and interesting to listen to. And their staple "No Fees," marketing rules... We were never charged for bags, and sister Laura coming in from DC actually skipped her first flight to drive with Craig's other sister but took her return flight home. Absolutely unheard of on other airlines; if you miss that first leg, you're screwed out of the entire reservation, and lose 25-30% of your paid fare in the exchange, if they even let you exchange.

And every time they helped us get the wheels out, offered help to putting the wheelchair back together, and made sure Craig got into his chair ok. Not once did we see employees from AirServe or other on-site assistance company, Southwest employees were keen on doing it themselves; even once the pilot stepped out and asked. Not to point fingers but we've had some nasty unhappy pilots in our day who would not allow our wheels or chair to be in "his closet," not knowing our rights, not offering assistance. A few airlines always give us exceptional service, (Continental and American's are unwavering) but many others often fail to, especially United, US Air, and the regional servers.

When I searched "why are Southwest Airline's employees so happy?" on Google, it pulled up numerous articles on how CEO Gary Kelly makes sure his employees provide "Texas-style warmth and spirit," which must trickle down from the top.

You can bet we'll be flying Southwest again, and recommending it to others who travel with wheelchairs. Attitude is everything!

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