Southwest Airlines finds a borderline crazy way to (finally) delight customers

Yes, the airline is improving its technology to avoid another meltdown. But there's something else it's doing.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
Southwest Airlines plane on runway.

More human(s)? 

Bloomberg/Getty Images

I'm very excited about Southwest Airlines.


No, seriously.

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It's been far too tempting to be a touch critical about the enormously unconscionable manner in which it treated its customers over the Christmas period.

Somehow, Southwest itself made it ever more tempting to be critical by presenting arguments that were, at their heart, sad, self-defensive wind.

But now, everything is changing. Can you feel it? I can feel it. A gentle breeze is blowing and it's emerging from the minds and mouths of Southwest.

Just look at some of the very recent developments.

Southwest has just hired a software company called SureWeather to ensure the weather never affects a single Southwest flight ever again.

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I apologize. That was just my excitement. SureWeather, in fact, promises: "One simple interface. A wide range of innovative deicing solutions at your fingertips."

The company boasts: "Over 70 global airlines currently implement holdover times and other creative solutions on the flight deck using our platform."

This may incite one or two Southwest customers to wonder: "Why was Southwest not one of these companies before?" But stop it, we're being positive here. We're being positively excited.

So please let me suggest that SureWeather must be quite good. Why, United Airlines already employs it and the airline recently went out of its way to create a Super Bowl mocking Southwest's inability to cope with the weather in Denver.

This, though, is just the beginning of the excitement. I promise.

Reuters reports that Southwest is also upgrading its crew scheduling software. Some customers may have thought the airline had very little crew scheduling software -- or, at least, very little that works well enough -- as it appeared Southwest had no way of knowing where many of its pilots and crew were during the December debacle.

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But there was one more thing in Southwest's latest announcements that may move some customers to paroxysms of joy.

Southwest says it's going to hire more people. Yes, actual human people. Their task? To do something truly radical: Answer the phone when customers call.

It's quite mad, isn't it? The mere idea that a human can solve your problem more quickly than a machine is, well, revolutionary. It seems that humans still think more like humans than AI does. Though of course the gap is narrowing.

Somehow, then, Southwest has concluded that it needs more humans on hand when customers are on their last kilojoule of patience.

It's easy to be aghast, isn't it? It's tempting to imagine that Southwest will again (finally?) show customers the, um, love for which the airline has been long known.

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So I'm very excited. I want you to be very excited, too.

But you've suffered a lot lately, so I feel duty-bound to whisper one small thing: Where are they going to get these new people from? 

How are they going to train them? How much will they pay them? And, dare I also mention, Southwest is currently one of the less happy airlines in general. Both its pilots and its flight attendants rail against the airline for not offering them a new contract.

Enough of that. Let's rejoice.

Southwest knows it needs more humans in order to offer a more human service, while it upgrades its technology to treat its pilots and cabin crew more like, well, humans.

Don't you just love it?

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