The Tale Of Two Airlines: Southwest And American

Yesterday I was struck by the contrast between two pieces of news; an ad in the USA Today from the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SAPA) and a new fee from American Airlines. 

First of all, I found a full page ad in the USA Today which was a letter from the SAPA to Herb Kelleher, the newly retired chairman of the airline. Here’s some of what the pilots had to say: 

As you step down from the SWA Board of Directors, the pilots of Southwest Airlines would like to thank you, Herb, for 38 years of positively outrageous service to our Company and our pilots. It has been an honor and a privilege.

I also read yesterday that American Airlines has decided to impose a $15 fee for the first bag that passengers check. This announcement comes two weeks after announcing a $25 fee for the second bag that customers check. Wow, that will be a customer experience nightmare in so many ways: slowing down the check-in process as customers find out the news and have to pay the fees, slowing down the boarding process as more people try and find space for their luggage in the overheads, and pushing more luggage off the plane when overheads get filled up (once again slowing the boarding process).

In addition to this news, I thought there was an interesting contrast with a full page ad in USA Today from the American Airlines Pilot Association that I found about a month ago. Here’s some of what American’s pilots had to say at that time: 

We’re embarrassed that so many passengers are inconvenienced and dissatisfied and hope you’ll accept our apologies for our airline’s unreliability… Due to mismanagement, our airline doesn’t have enough workers to run dependably…

The bottom line: Which airline do you think is best equipped to deliver a great customer experience?


About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

7 Responses to The Tale Of Two Airlines: Southwest And American

  1. Don says:

    Southwest – without a doubt. I think AA’s future is bleak – this $15 charge for the first bag is really ticking off a lot of people, far more so than any 2nd bag charges that are out there.

  2. realanswers says:

    Former American Airlines passengers will simply just move to AA’s competitors in the airline industry, like Southwest Airlines. The market forces, hypothetically, should correct everything. Once AA begins to receive fewer customers, they will make the proper adjustments and drop the excessive fees so that they stay competitive and don’t go out of business. Right now, it appears as if Southwest Airlines, as opposed to American Airlines, is delivering the better customer experience.

  3. Sean Williams says:

    This is an object lesson on the law of unintended consequences, or what Milton Friedman called “externalities.” To quote a recent news story, fuel prices are killing airlines. That is, airlines without the ability to hedge fuel (SW does). The cost base is too high and the ability to sustain higher prices too weak. AA is betting that they can keep the passengers with market “ticket prices” plus the fees. I don’t think they can. AA’s only hope is that all the legacy carriers fall in line (especially United, their Chicago hub-mate). The externalities of this decision are poor customer perceptions; the objectives may include shrinking traffic to justify service cuts and staff retirements/reductions. Shrink the airline in order to save it.

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  7. nick says:

    southwest is way better lugage is free it has less crashes and it just has better attendents.

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