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by Paul Kiser
USA PDT  [Twitter: ] [Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Skype:kiserrotary or 775.624.5679]

Paul Kiser

In the July edition of Southwest Airlines ‘Spirit’ in-flight magazine SWA takes a swipe at “President Obama’s” Recovery Act (I’m pretty sure that more than one person put together the program that pulled us out of economic disaster) and informs the passengers that the definition of ‘Shovel Ready’ is also associated with a project that has failed. Obviously, there is no LUV coming out of Texas for our 18-month old administration, but I was surprised that they would put a political biased slam in their customer publication.

Regardless, I will take their lead and use their definition to ask if the Southwest Air WiFi program is ‘shovel ready’?

Southwest was testing WiFi on four planes (I’ve also heard that only one plane had/has the service) as early as March 2009. I flew a WiFi-enabled plane from Denver to Reno a several months ago when they had to replace the plane we were supposed to fly. After boarding the plane several hours late the flight attendant announce that to make up for our delay we at least would have WiFi because we were on the ‘special’ plane. She then immediately said that we would not be able to use the service, but didn’t say why. That seems to typify Southwest’s efforts to get WiFi off the ground.

Southwest has a page on their website that announces the new WiFi service to begin in early 2010. Is July early? Note that you can only find this page by a Google search or by going directly to the page at:

Southwest Air WiFi Page

If the link is dead that will mean that Southwest read this post and someone in IT probably got chewed on for not killing the page. In case they update the page, here is what it said as of today (July 9, 2010):

“Southwest Airlines is excited to offer satellite-enabled Wi-Fi internet access onboard. The service is currently on four aircraft, but we hope to begin equipping more of the fleet with this cutting-edge technology in early 2010.”

In Gary’s Greeting on the SWA website titled “Technology is Our Friend,”  CEO Gary Kelly spends two sentences on the WiFi service:

“Many Customers want to stay connected while aloft, and your chances of flying on a Southwest Wi-Fi-equipped jet improves as the year progresses. In April, we began a two-year process of installing this state-of-the-art connectivity on our entire fleet.”

Other than that Southwest is making no effort to publicize the new WiFi service, which begs the question “Is there a problem?” Early 2010 has come and gone, April 2010 was three months ago, where’s the WiFi? I understand that it will take some time to install it on all the planes but this is a marketing opportunity and a major addition to in-flight service. Is SWA just unenthusiastic, uncaring, or embarrassed about offering WiFi, or is there a problem? If it was meant to be a secret it was not the smartest move to build a webpage to announce the service. My guess is that there have been major problems and the corporate PR people are hoping no one will notice. If that’s the case then they would be wrong.

LUV is the SWA Way, but you pay for WiFi

They have said that the service will not be free. That’s disappointing from a business standpoint. For an airline that is full of LUV’ it would seem that one inexpensive way to build customer love would be to offer free WiFi like Starbucks. I published an article today praising the wisdom of free WiFi and rather than repeating here I’ll offer the link to the article.

(The business benefits of free WiFi)

I admit I am biting the hand that feeds me. I will only fly SWA unless I can’t get to a city with their routes. But between the political jab in Spirit magazine and the noticeably absent WiFi service I am not feeling the LUV right now. I’m sure I’ll get over it and in a few weeks I’ll be flying to Dallas on SWA and I’ll be happy to do it … but just in case Gary Kelly reads this please note that ‘thump’ you hear outside of Las Vegas or Austin might be me landing a few minutes before the plane does. You never know, some people have no sense of humor.

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