You may never have heard of Herb Kelleher, who passed away in January this year aged 87, but you will most definitely have been on the receiving end of a service phenomenon instigated by Kelleher.
Kelleher was the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines which started from Texas with just four planes in 1971. The model he developed of keeping things simple (no seat allocation), turning planes around in less 10 minutes (he took his people to watch how motor racing teams do pit stops), and only serving peanuts were all initiatives that cut costs dramatically. However, Kelleher also liked to have fun entertaining his passengers with amusing briefings and developed a reputation for incredibly good customer service. In fact, people wrote books about Southwest customer service with titles that included, “The Southwest Airlines Way,” and, “NUTS”.
On one occasion, a Southwest plane leaving Chicago aborted take-off and headed back to the terminal. Unknow to passenger, Peggy Uhle, her son had been injured in an accident and was in a coma at a Denver Hospital. Peggy was asked to phone her husband and Southwest had already booked her on a flight to Denver. “They offered a private waiting area, rerouted my luggage, allowed me to board first, and packed a lunch for when I got off the plane in Denver,” reported Peggy
The Southwest model included economies of using just one type of plane and landing at cheaper, out of city centre, airports. Many of their strategies will now be familiar to you as they have been copied by so many other airlines. But whilst Ryanair is ranked as the ‘worst airline’ for sixth year in a row by Which? How is it that all these airlines have copied the functional part of the service but ignored the customer service element.
RIP Herb Kelleher, you will be missed by your customers and by all those who worked with you at Southwest Air.