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Failure is opportunity.

Success is determined by how you respond to failure.

Southwest Air ‘Shamu’ plane

On August 3, Southwest had a big problem. In celebration for reaching 3 million fans on Facebook, Southwest offered a one day ‘flash’ sale of 50% off certain flights for seven specific days this Fall. Unfortunately, their reservation computers decided to take that day off. Apparently the crush of ticket buyers caused their automatic reservation system to lock up. That was bad.

What was worse is that customers who kept hitting the ‘SUBMIT’ button ended up with a ticket purchase each time it was hit. Rumor has it that some people had as many as sixty tickets or more charged for the same flight. Ooooowwww!

I was one of those customers. I didn’t have the multiple ‘submit-hit’ issue, because my ‘SUBMIT’ button went away after I clicked it; however, I didn’t get a confirmation page, and when I checked my account the flight was not recorded. My mistake was repurchasing the ticket when I thought it wasn’t recorded. It was not until the next day that I received two confirmation emails from Southwest Airlines with different confirmation numbers for the same flight. I called 1-800-I-FLY-SWA immediately.

The person who answered patiently waited while I tried to explain the problem and then she explained what happened and apologized profusely. She explained what Southwest was doing to rectify the issue and canceled one of the tickets and refunded the money. She explained that Southwest would be responsible for any overdraft charges, which there weren’t.

At this point Southwest had met my expectations in resolving the issue. They, 1) admitted they made a mistake, 2) took quick action to resolve the basic issue, and 3) offered to resolve any secondary issues caused by the mistake.

Southwest then went one step farther. Three days later I received a $150 voucher towards a future ticket. This is not unheard of in the airline industry; however, it was not required. It reflected the depth of Southwest’s apology. That makes this incident a customer service win for Southwest Airlines.

A customer service failure is never good, but it is only a failure as long as the business fails to respond appropriately.

This situation may also be a good lesson for the airlines. I’ve been watching the airfare rates all summer and they have been outrageously high. The reason there was a rush of people after these ‘one-day-only’ rates is because the airlines have boxed out customers who can defer travel rather than pay inflated ticket prices. The airlines may be comfortable with cutting back seat inventory to keep prices high, but I’m irritated that they are playing games with the free market system to artificially keep the supply low in order to keep demand high.

It brings up the question of whether it’s time to reimpose government regulation on the airlines in order to restore fairness to the customer.