Southwest Airlines' new approach to tech just jolted me out of my seat

Investing in the right technology can change people's attitudes to your brand. That's something the troubled airline may be learning.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Rising in tech?

Rick Gershon/Getty Images

It's remarkable how quickly a brand can fall from grace.

Not so long ago, Southwest Airlines was everyone's friend. It was a remarkable airline. It was lovable. Somehow it was able to not charge you for things other airlines did -- baggage fees, for example.

Also: United Airlines just gave tech companies a lesson in pleasing customers

But then there was a rapid descent into technological calamity.

Its crew scheduling software incited meltdowns, due to its antediluvian state. Rival airlines publicly mocked Southwest's technology in ads. Even Southwest's CEO confessed that its technology was painfully outdated and inadequate. Why, the airline didn't even offer power outlets on its planes.

And when it came to actually booking a flight, Southwest refused to allow its fares to be included on aggregator sites such as Kayak. You had to make the effort of going only to the airline's own website. As an approach to the way people really use technology, it was -- and in many ways still is -- eccentric.

Southwest promised to change, at least a little. It insisted it would invest more in technology.

But since that time, I had written Southwest out of my travel plans. Somehow, there was enough choice from local airports not to consider the airline, despite its constant email offerings of (alleged) deals.

I just got an email from Southwest, however, that may just change my mind. The subject line was simple, but it wafted past my innate defenses. It read: "Hey, can we text you?"

Perhaps that seems like the most mundane thought. But for me, it resonated. It suggested that Southwest was considering some of the (relatively) modern ways of using technology in order not merely to sell, but to create a renewed relationship with its customers.

Also: Five reasons why email will never die

It's one thing for a brand to promise it'll finally enter this century with its approach to tech. It's another to see it stick to its word in the smallest of ways.

Personally -- and I may be in a minority here -- I've appreciated some of the marketing I've allowed to enter my orbit via text. 

Companies such as sneaker brand Converse and online wine seller De Négoce have balanced the frequency of texts with the ability to make offers that are, at the very least, interesting. Somehow, the text format makes it all more personal.

Also: The best AI chatbots: ChatGPT isn't the only one worth trying

These companies haven't pestered. They haven't screeched in a spurious manner. They've respected my phone and my time enough to make the whole notion of text marketing drift along an axis between tolerable and appealing. (Unlike all of the political campaign texting I constantly receive.)

If Southwest can do the same -- and its emailed enticement for these texts was "Wanna be in the know when our fares go low?" -- then it might make me appreciate the airline a little more than I currently do.

Southwest is currently committed to attracting younger travelers -- those who have grown up with tech from their infancy. So perhaps this foray into text marketing is a tiny part of that.

Also: Gen Z looks to AI to overcome its data anxiety - but the rest of us are worried

But for my world-weary soul, too, the simplicity of this approach to tech might overcome my reluctance to fly the airline.

It's easy for brands to forget how tech can repel just as much as it can attract. Use it well -- as United Airlines did recently with a very thoughtful alert system that tells you when your preferred seat comes free -- and customers may melt a little.

Of course, if Southwest starts sending too many texts, it'll swiftly re-enter my book of shame.

But I've signed up for the texts, so we'll see.

Editorial standards