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The World's Most Successful Airline, Southwest

By: Kellie K. Speed

Encountering long waits at the airport, security clearance, cramped seats and high fares can make traveling very difficult. What better ad campaign than to run embarrassing situations in which people find themselves desperately wanting to get away? For the past decade, Southwest Airlines has run commercials accompanied by the catchy sound clip “(ding) You are now free to move about the country.”

Southwest Airlines has made it their priority to take these concerns into consideration to make flying an enjoyable experience. Today, the world’s most profitable airline not only offers some of the cheapest airfares but is also committed to creating a great place for their employees to work.

“Southwest really is a special place to work,” said Chris Mainz, spokesman for Southwest Airlines. “It started with our history from day one with the people who founded the airline. The president and chairman have been very involved from the beginning. They have been instrumental in creating a culture of a family environment. The number one rule we practice here is the golden rule.”

When the company originated in 1971, Southwest operated four planes serving just three cities but brought in revenues in excess of $2 million. Some 36 years later, the company now offers 3,200 flights per day and serves 63 cities in 32 states with revenues of $9 billion.

“We focus on our employees first, customers second and shareholders third,” Mainz said. “I think that is the biggest difference between us and our competitors. Their focus is in reverse. This is what makes us stand apart from the rest. 

In a world of monolith corporations, what makes a company one of the best places to work? For Southwest, it all depends on what you are looking for in a potential employer and how you measure success.

“We bring in employees who want to be here and would be a good team fit,” Mainz added. “They must have a passion to do a single job and proven excellent customer service. We want to keep our customers coming back, which ultimately reflects positively on our bottom line. We build our company from the inside out and I think that is why we are so well known for our customer service in an industry not typically known for good customer service.”

Southwest management has created a culture where its more than 32,000 employees are treated as the company's number one asset. Each month, Southwest highlights on its website a “Star of the Month,” an employee who has gone above and beyond their call of duty.

“We have also instituted a new program called Adopt a Pilot where fifth grade children ‘adopt’ an actual pilot over a four-week program,” Mainz said. “They talk about math, science and engineering and the students follow their pilot through trips and communicate with each other by email. We like to be the hometown carrier in the city we serve by donating time, resources and money to many charitable organizations.”

Being a leader in the industry, Southwest calculates its success by remaining true to its priority of employing first class employees and keeping its customers happy. “Even though we have gotten bigger and grown our aircraft over the years, our core values have not changed and that all stems from having that family environment,” Mainz noted. “We have really been able to create something special here.”

Unlike many carriers that have cramped seating, Southwest offers plenty of legroom and leather seats with no designated first or business class sections but where “every seat is first class.” Most airlines charge a fee to change the date and time of an existing reservation but Southwest does not.

Southwest Airlines plans to restart operations at San Francisco International Airport, a station the airline closed in 2001. In addition, this year, the airline plans to add five new daily nonstop flights and increase frequencies of 41 flights between cities they already serve. These additions will be in effect by August 4, 2007.

Southwest is also actively involved in community giving. The Ronald McDonald House program is the primary corporate charity of the airline. “We have a positive relationship with the Ronald McDonald House and have a tremendous amount of pride in our charitable contributions. Southwest has a separate department for charitable giving where we fulfill requests for non-profit organizations and folks from all around the country looking for assistance. Whether we are serving dinner at the Ronald McDonald House, helping with trash pickup or providing resources to an elementary school, Southwest is committed to helping the community. We certainly help out wherever we can.”

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Kellie Speed - Click to enlarge

Kellie K. Speed is a freelance travel writer and restaurant reviewer. Her features have been published in various publications including The Boston Globe, Cahnersí Industrial Distribution and Graphic Arts Monthly magazines and Reno Air Approach.

Kellie has reviewed numerous first-class hotels and travel destinations, including Hawaii, California, Arizona, Bermuda and Mexico, to name a few. She has also traveled internationally to Ireland, England, France, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic. Next year, she is planning a trip to Tahiti.

Since she is from Massachusetts, she will be providing reviews of local restaurants for Travel-Watch.

If you would like to email Kellie any suggestions or comments, please do so at kkspeed@aol.com.

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