Observations from my Recent Trip to Boise and Salt Lake City: Southwest Airlines

Thanks to everyone that attended my mid-June psychopharmacology seminars in Boise, Idaho and Salt Lake City, Utah. I sincerely hope that all attendees enjoyed and benefited from the trainings. More importantly, I strived to better your condition with regard to this subject matter, as all of you are entitled to a lasting return on your investment of time and money.

I rarely fly Southwest Airlines. I have no bias against this airline, I just tend to choose the other major carriers in that I am able to book a reserved seat. I’m no longer certain I will continue that policy. All of my connections to Boise,Salt Lake City and eventually back to New Orleans were via Southwest on this recent trip.

During this current recession, Southwest has remained profitable, although less so as fewer people are flying these days. When oil prices spiked last year and fuel costs subsequently escalated, the airline still operated in the black. There’s never been a hint of a discussion regarding bankruptcy with this carrier, and they have eschewed charging checked baggage fees – even at the height of the oil price crisis. Yes, fares rose, but no more than what competitive carriers – Delta, Continental and United – were charging.

Why this continuing track record of success despite often trying circumstances? I can answer it in one word: Attitude. From the baggage handlers to the pilots, these people seem as though they really enjoy what they’re doing and actually want to be at work! And how is it that 180 people can be loaded and locked on an airplane in approximately fifteen minutes when it takes the other major carriers at least thirty minutes? Attitude again. Flight attendants, with a friendly smile and a kind word, strategically position themselves in the aisles directing people to the next available seat and to the overhead bins above. Systematically the plane loads from the front to the rear. Passengers simply follow the herd and the cues. No one enters the cabin and rushes to aisle 32. Does anyone really want to be there anyway? At some point on full flights, only middle seats remain for those boarding last, but these folks seem to already know that.

Flight instructions are conducted in a tongue-in-cheek, slightly irreverent-like manner. C’mon, does anyone really not know how to buckle a seat belt or what to do with the oxygen mask that could drop down from the panel above? They make the boring FAA stuff fun.

The ubiquitous, irritating service cart – a mainstay on other carriers – is absent on Southwest flights. Drink orders are taken and simply served on trays, so the aisle is not consumed by flight personnel. This is a model of efficiency for a task that never was rocket science in the first place.

This airline has to have one heck of a training program, and when it comes to success in any business, the tried and true constants always have any always will dominate: Offer a fair price, service that distinguishes you from others, and a positive attitude that resonates with the customer, and they will come back. And on Southwest, they keep coming, and coming and coming.

Joseph Wegmann, R.Ph., LCSW is a licensed clinical pharmacist and a clinical social worker with more than thirty years of experience in the field of psychopharmacology. His diverse professional background in psychopharmacology and counseling affords him a unique perspective on medication management issues. In addition to consulting with numerous psychiatric facilities, he has presented psychopharmacology seminars to thousands of clinicians in 46 states.

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