Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I'm not sure how much fun it is working for an airline.
Yes, there's travel involved, but how does anyone deal with the ever-smaller planes, the ever more grouchy passengers and managements that seem to care as much for their employees as soot cares for your lungs?
So I thought I'd spend a day on Southwest Airlines' Twitter account to observe the to-ing, fro-ing and groaning that goes on every day.
I chose Southwest because it's renowned for its human core.
Many feel the airline truly thinks about about its staff and its passengers -- even if I had a horrible experience at LAX with Southwest last year.
Here are some of the highlights, to give you a sense of what Southwest's customer service staff on Twitter have to deal with on any given day.
Brace. Brace. Brace.
The complaints start at curbside.
@SouthwestAir how do you have a sign for curbside check in and then NOT have an employee working to check bags? I MISSED MY FLIGHT waiting in line TWICE to check a bag.-- Kaitlin Kelly (@KAITL1Nkelly) March 9, 2018
There should be a sign, Kelly is told. There isn't, she replies. Can the airline fix it? It seems not.
Kaitlin, we understand the depth of your feelings and regret any further frustration this situation has caused. ^AW-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
They weren't dancing in Charleston, either.
What could the airline do? Hope for better, it seems.
Skylar, we're so sorry if we fell short of the Customer Service you (and we) expect. We hope to make it up to you while onboard! ^CT-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
Then there were the customers begging the Customer Service Twitter staff to get the captain of their plane to take off.
@SouthwestAir ok 1667 to Columbus let's go, an hour late and counting-- Lou Baltimore (@LouBaltimore) March 9, 2018
Lou says he's spent "$800 to be late this week."
What could the airline do? Nothing, sadly.
Our goal is an ontime departure, and we're sorry for letting you down this week. We appreciate your feedback and hope to make it up to you next time. ^NS-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
But there were bright moments.
There was the customer who just wanted to show off his shoes.
Does Southwest's Twitter account ignore this frippery? It doesn't.
We like your style: always dress to impress for your travel days. You never know who you may meet - especially in Chicago... Let us know how everything goes and have a great weekend! ^SO-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
On this one day, though, the complaints seem to outweigh the amusements. Well, it is a Friday, a busy travel day.
@SouthwestAir You cancelled my girlfriend's reservation for our flight back from Mexico. We are trying to call your customer service number but it's not working, presumably because we are in Mexico. pic.twitter.com/of6MB4tRaV-- Kyle Cuevas (@ViveCuevas) March 9, 2018
Can Southwest fix it? I wonder.
That's not what we like to hear. Please feel free to DM us if you need any further assistance, and we appreciate your patience. ^KD-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
I tend to think that lost bags are mostly a thing of the past. Many airlines tell me their computerized systems now make lost luggage a relative rarity. It's not entirely gone, though.
Lindsay wasn't mollified. Here's why.
Yes. The investigation revealed that HOU was responsible for the lost bag. But Southwest should take responsibility for their reps' inability to do their job.-- LH (@lindsaymh3) March 9, 2018
More humble pie being served at Southwest's Twitter HQ.
We certainly want to take responsibility for falling short, and we apologize for the delay of your bag. Please know that we are continuously looking to improve, and we will use your feedback to do so. We hope to reunite you with your bag soon. ^GC-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
Sometimes, though, the airline went out of its way just to talk to people. This exchange was quite something. A Twitterer just said she wanted a trip. She didn't refer to Southwest at all.
A trip is always a good idea, Mackenna! DM us w/ #SWAgift for a goody to help with your planning. ^SC-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
Still, the complaints seemed to be about, well, everything.
Wow, Ashley, we're so sorry about the temperature this morning (and the loss of your glowing tan). Usually, the AC gets going when the pilots turns the engines on - hang in there!-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
It's hard to please people. It's hard to please, people.
I asked Southwest how many people staff its Twitter account and how long their shifts are.
I'm not sure I could do this for more than, oh, 20 minutes at a time.
Still, at one point, the Southwest Twitter account had to remind explain to a passenger that no, no these responses weren't coming from a machine.
We're actually humans and apologize if we sounded otherwise! Feel free to DM your confirmation number with more details. ^NA-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
But good deeds still occasionally got mentioned.
That's awesome, Danielle! We love hearing things like this! DM your confirmation number, and we'll make sure the Crew hears about the great impression they made. ^SO https://t.co/mQmfkXW4oV-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
And then there's the sort of passenger who (says they)'ll never fly Southwest again. It's not an easy conversation.
The airline tries to explain.
It looks like Flt 1932 is currently delayed due to Air Traffic Control issues. We realize that irregular operations are frustrating and inconvenient for everyone involved, and we make every effort to minimize delays when possible. We truly appreciate your patience with us! ^VP-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
And tries to explain.
It is important to know that all aircraft, including those operated by Southwest, conduct takeoffs and landings in accordance with established and detailed air traffic control rules and procedures. Our goal is an ontime departure, and we're sorry for falling short. ^VP-- Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 9, 2018
After an hour staring at this Twitter feed, I was exhausted. I contacted Southwest to ask how many people are employed on this thankless task and how long their shifts are.
A spokeswoman told me: "While I can't share specific details on our staffing model, it is public knowledge that our Social Care Team -- the folks that are responding to customers on social media -- is staffed 24/7/365."
She said they don't get special training to be tolerant.
"I think it is ingrained in our employees to do what's right for the customer, and that just naturally translates to staying calm under pressure," she said.
I kept checking back every hour and it was more and more and more of the same.
Few problems could be solved. Many apologies could be offered.
I thought I'd check back one final time at the end of the day.
I still felt the tiredness from the hours I'd spent during the day, reading and reading and wishing the angst would end. (Mine and that of the passengers.)
I didn't even have the strength to embed any more tweets.
You'd think, though, that by late night things would have calmed down.
Surely, everything would be more peaceful.
But remember when the Southwest spokeswoman said they have Twitter staff 24/7/365?
My eyes first fell on the passenger who claimed her stress levels were so high, but the plane hadn't taken off, so she couldn't get any wine.
And the round of apologies begins again.
Well, it never stops.
Even new customers appear to be having a painful time.
There was the passenger who observed: "First time and last time flying with bumass @SouthwestAir."
Again, the Social Care team tries to care and asks for a Direct Message to gain more insight into the airline's alleged resemblance to a posterior.
Yet it seems that some of the Southwest gate agents may not be full of the joys of (almost) spring.
"Hey @SouthwestAir quick q, just had an agent snap at me while boarding for my refusing to check my laptop bag or camera bag as they are not padded. Am I not allowed two pieces of carry on? Tried to give one of the pieces to my friend but they said they did not allow that," tweeted one passenger.
So again, regrets must be expressed and rules must be explained.
For every positive tweet, there seem to be 10 expressing disappointment, frustration, pain, anger, disbelief and several other negative emotions.
Still, here's a positive one.
"@SouthwestAir Clarence and Frank from flight 6219 CMH to OAK yesterday were the best attendants ever! Love those guys!," said a happy camper called Adam.
"We train the best, Adam. Do you mind sending over a DM with your confirmation number, so we can pass along the kudos?" replied the Southwest Twitterer, no doubt relieved they could actually say something pleasant.
And then a passenger wanted Southwest to buy them a drink. A lot of drinks, actually.
"I've already had a double Jameson on the rocks, and my flight is delayed for another 1.5 hours. Wtf to do next? I wish I could charge @SouthwestAir for all the drinks since they're running late," says a troubled passenger.
Southwest isn't quite ready to buy the drinks.
Instead, the airline's Twitterers offer: "We're sorry for the delay today. We know that flight irregularities are stressful and inconvenient, and we'll do our best to get you on your way as soon as possible. That said, we're happy to get you an update on your flight. What the flight number."
Though if I was listening to all this, I'd be tempted to have at least a single Jameson myself.
Still the complaints pour in. This doesn't stop, does it? It never stops. It never will.
Nor will the attempts at solving problems that can't be solved.
An unhappy man is told to call customer relations. They've already gone home. So he threatens to cancel four upcoming trips with the airline. He tells the airline it's ruined his trip.
Another unhappy man says Southwest ruined his day and, who knows, his life.
"Never fly @SouthwestAir. Ever. I only had to because of business, but they treat you like crap. Gate attendants told us we were on time even though flight was not at gate for boarding, then at time of departure, they let us know it is over 3.5 hours delayed. For an hour flight," he says.
What can the Twitterers say?
"Rest assured your concerns have been taken to Heart, and our Team will do their best to get you on your way as soon as possible," is the best they can do.
It's not great, is it?
I can't cope with this anymore.
This well of disappointment is bottomless.
I don't know how these Social Care people sit there for hour after hour reading this anger, this hurt, this utter frustration and attempt to offer a reply that shows some sort of caring, with very little ability to solve anything at all.
They're at the tortured end of a system that won't get better and can't get better.
These patient people serve to offer a flimsy Band-Aid, 24 hours a day, one that doesn't ease the pain much, nor heal the wounds.
It serves only to make people believe that the airline is listening to their ululation.
Because we all just want to be heard, right?