If you’ve ever traveled with small children before you know it is not a walk in the park. We’ve been lucky in our 3 and a half years of traveling with kids because we always fly Southwest and their employees are always very friendly and accommodating. We even have their Southwest Visas for our personal and business accounts. When I was a senior at UF, majoring in Public Relations, my senior thesis was on Southwest’s former CEO Herb Kelleher and how their customer service sets them apart from other companies. For 15 years I’ve been a Southwest groupie, but that might have changed after our last experience.
Let me preface with this: I know people have bad days. I know one person doesn’t represent an entire company. What does bother me is when you let a company know via Twitter (usually the cream of the crop customer service folks) and they don’t do squat. I’m going to give you an extremely abbreviated version of what went down because it would otherwise turn into a novel and I don’t have time for that (it’s nap time).
- Our flight back to RI was the last direct flight of the day, 8:50pm but delayed to 9:15pm (my kids didn’t care but is important because it might have contributed to the gate agent’s attitude)
- My husband and I purchased tickets for both kids, even though Sidney qualifies as a lap child we wanted her to sit in her own car seat and sleep. We purchased Early Bird confirmations for $25/ticket for myself and my husband so that we could make sure one of us sat next to each kid. The FLA>RI flights are always booked and it’s difficult to get seats in a row, no big deal.
- The Southwest gate agent (SGA) got on the loud-speaker while the passengers lined up and started talking to all of us like this:
- “if your kid is old enough to hold a juice box, he’s old enough to hand me his own boarding pass. I don’t want a stack of passes when you get up here”
- “you line up in numerical order, it’s not that hard”
- “oh look, you can count, wow.”
- I can’t remember all the other digs he said, but he treated an entire gate full of people like we were absolute morons. The other passengers around me were all talking to each other about how incredibly rude he was. Then my husband and toddler tried to board.
- My husband was A25 and our 3 year old was B9. My husband was carrying Sidney’s car seat so I wouldn’t have to lug the stroller, her, and the car seat on when I boarded at A48. It’s now 9:30 at night and when they reach the gate, SGA rudely turns him away and says that my son can’t get on the plane with him. He needs to wait until the B’s board. There goes $25 down the drain.
- When it’s Sidney’s and my turn to board, I have her (18 months old who holds a juice box) give him her boarding pass (per HIS instructions). He then stops me to yell at me about my stroller. I get it, a double jogging stroller is huge. I know. Before we flew, I asked Southwest Customer Service if I was allowed to take it on the plane “No Problem.” SGA literally followed me down the jetway yelling at me to “fold my MASSIVE stroller at the bottom and NOT near the door so he doesn’t have to climb over that MASSIVE stroller.” Probably said it 3x after I said “ok.” He proceeded to complain about having to deal with my massive stroller to everyone else behind me. Fine, I get you don’t like part of your job description. I didn’t even care at this point but I wanted to catch his name so I could send an email to Southwest letting them know they have a disgruntled employee who had a gate full of people saying they would never fly Southwest again after how he treated everyone.
- Apparently, the flight attendant up front who told me his name let *him* know that a passenger was unhappy.
- The other flight attendant was making small talk with me while I put Sidney’s car seat in and I let him know how condescending the gate agent was. The gentleman and his wife in the row behind us hopped out of his seat and apologized for butting into our conversation but that Southwest should know that the gate agent was so rude “he’s gonna get socked by someone for the way he treats people.” We all put on our seat belts and settled in for our late flight back to Providence.
- Here’s where it get’s crazy. The entire plane was boarded and about to push away from the gate when the angry SGA STORMS onto the plane, all the way to the back , row 15, where I was sitting in the middle seat (with my baby trying to fall asleep next to me)
- I remember looking up to SGA’s red, angry face only 3 inches from mine. The poor Grandma next to me got shoved out-of-the-way. My first thought was “Is this real life?!I”
- He yelled “I hear you think I’m condescending?!” twice before I realized it was indeed real life. I replied “yes, you were condescending.” He then yells “Sorry you think I’m rude, I’m here to apologize.” Red-faced and irate. Yelling at me 3 inches from my face and not even saying “excuse me” to the poor lady in the aisle seat he was leaning over.
- I then say “uh, that’s an apology?” At this point, the poor flight attendants next to him even had a big “W.T.F. is happening” look on their face and they tried to get him to leave me alone. I let him know I was disappointed that he wouldn’t let my 3 year old board with my husband and he said “sorry but that’s our policy.” He continued to yell (apologize?) at me until the flight attendants basically pushed him off the plane. Meanwhile, the flight attendants and him were blocking the view of my husband who had no idea what was happening across the aisle.
- I am ALL for following the rules, I don’t speed and I’ve never had a detention in my life. If we knew that was a policy (which has NEVER been enforced in our 30-something flight with kids), we wouldn’t have spent an EXTRA $50 on Early Bird confirmation. No big deal. Just treat people with RESPECT. Especially those traveling with toddlers way past their bed times.
- When he got off the plane, I tried to hold it together but burst into tears when the flight attendant came back to apologize and offer me a free drink. The great-grandmother next to me gave me her drink napkin to wipe my tears. I didn’t want a free drink, but getting yelled at in front of a plane full of people is something I hope I never experience again.
- I was so full of “WTF JUST HAPPENED” afterwards. Embarrassed because I got yelled at in front of a plane full of people and my children. A little scared because if he flipped out like that over someone letting a flight attendant know he was rude (OVER A LOUD SPEAKER. In front of 200 people), could you imagine if it was something else?
- I knew it was bad when the 80 something year old lady next to me said “I hope someone videotaped that and puts it on YouTube.”
- I contacted Southwest afterwards to let them know my experience and I’m disappointed by how they are handling it. Apparently they are “researching the situation” and “talking to the employees involved” which scares me because if that guy flipped out on me before, I certainly don’t want “corporate” talking to him because of *me*. Yikes. I don’t expect anything from them, but a genuine apology would have been nice– I don’t want to be “in the loop” on their side.
- If you hate people, don’t work in a job where you’re the face of an airline. Load some bags or something where you can’t be rude to 200 people over a loud-speaker.
- If you ask for a Southwest employee’s name, don’t be surprised if they rush on board to scream at you in front of your children and a plane full of passengers.
- They’ll offer you a free drink for the verbal lashing. Take it, because the drink napkin is perfect for soaking up tears.
I still like Southwest but am disappointed in how they responded as a company. Oh well.
PS. I’m only blogging this because so many friends on Twitter have asked me to and my husband wanted me to do it last week. I really thought Southwest would have done something differently and I wouldn’t need to share this story, but maybe I can prevent someone else from being yelled at, right?