Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It's hard selling yourself as a people-pleaser.

You raise expectations and, when you don't deliver, people really aren't pleased.

That's the foul situation Southwest Airlines has suddenly found itself in.

Here, for example, is what one customer wrote on the airline's Instagram page

I have been sitting at the Dallas airport since 9:30 and my updated flight has now been delayed AGAIN to 4:55 pm. This is ridiculous. I can't take another flight because my bags will not be on that flight. They will fly in on my original flight which means I would have to go back up to the airport to get my bags. This is ridiculous service and there will be no need for me to use this airline anymore. This comment will get lost I'm sure, but seriously people fly anything else. At this point horse and buggy would be faster.

The comment wasn't quite lost. It also wasn't alone. 

Here's one from another disgruntled Southwester. Incensed by a pretty picture of a sunset Southwest posted to its Instagram account, this customer mused: 

Is this why you wanted me to stay here today instead of going home and canceling our flight for no reason with no other flight to go on? I am pregnant and forced to sit on a 8 hr drive now home. You also offered no help and no hotel tonight even though only next flight is tomorrow morning. Southwest you lost a customer and I thought you guys were good.

That strikes at the heart of the Southwest brand. 

Customers believe it represents the good guys, in contrast to the nasty guys of American and United. 

Yet when the airline lets people down, the ululation is palpable. Yet another sample: 

You had me fly from Charlotte, to Dallas, from Dallas, to St. Louis... Then you have my departing flight LEAVE without me and now you want me to WAIT A FULL 24 HOURS BEFORE I CAN GET TO F***ING [my stars] PITTSBURGH!!!! YOU ARE TRASH!!!!!

And that's from someone with the Instagram handle vegetariangoddess.

What's behind all these cancellations? 

You see, the airline, perhaps acting in the spirit of President Trump, last week declared a state of emergency

Its official name is "operational emergency."

The airline says that an unusual number of its airplanes are coming up lame. This has required a lot more maintenance.

So it's ordered all its mechanics to come to work or be fired. Unless they have a doctor's note, of course.

Last week, I asked the airline whether this had something to do with some Southwest mechanics telling CBS News that they were sometimes pressured to let certain maintenance issues go for the sake of operational efficiency.

At the time, the airline wouldn't respond.

Today it told me all these problems with canceled flights are the mechanics' fault.

Southwest offered me a statement that positively -- and with minimal passive aggression -- raged at the mechanics: 

We experienced an unprecedented number of out-of-service aircraft in four specific maintenance locations despite no change in our maintenance programs, no changes in leadership, and no changes in our policies and procedures.

Addressing the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association directly, Southwest was less than fraternal:

AMFA has a history of work disruptions, and Southwest has two pending lawsuits against the union. We will be investigating this current disruption and exploring all possible remedies.

Naturally, I wondered what the union thought. Its national director Bret Oestreich offered dark portents: 

Southwest Airline's [sic] scapegoating of its expert Aircraft Maintenance Technicians does not bode well for the airline's safe operation.

He added more foreboding, suggesting that Southwest is trying to mask its "safety issues":

The FAA has condemned the carrier's "capitulation of airworthiness" and Southwest has confessed that it has flown passengers in unairworthy aircraft.

These two sides have been in labor negotiations for the past seven years. 

Southwest says it's "extremely proud" of its mechanics and is "anxious to reward them."

Meanwhile, some customers' anxiety has now turned to rage, especially as the weather seems to be doing the same, making its natural contribution to 350 canceled flights as of today.

It's very possible things may get worse rather than better. If they do, and if more customers begin to vent, that will place enormous pressure on the airline.

Customers don't care about your labor issues. To them, it just looks like bad management.

Somewhere, something -- or someone -- has to give.

I wonder who it'll be. 

Published on: Feb 20, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.