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Two recent actions by two separate airlines highlight an amazing dichotomy of opposing leadership styles and Customer Connecting Cultures.

Southwest Airlines, America’s largest low-cost carrier, has announced that it will no longer book flights over capacity as part of the selling process.  CEO Gary Kelly stated, “As we have dramatically improved our forecasting tools and techniques… we no longer have a need to overbook as part of the revenue management inventory process.  The improved reliability allows us now to change Southwest’s overbooking policy and enhance our customer-friendly hospitality, the over-arching philosophy at the heart of 45-plus years of success at Southwest.”


Ever since Herb Kelleher founded the airline in 1967, the airline has been focused on transparency and a customer connecting culture. Southwest hit some rough spots in the last 45 years, but its cornerstone philosophy has not been just to apologize but to acknowledge blame.  The one “controversial” policy it enforces, not letting people fly inebriated, has been seen as a customer care move.  Southwest inspires customer trust and complete customer satisfaction.  Its communication style is direct, and putting the customer first is how it  runs the company from the top down.


At the other end of the spectrum there’s United Airlines. The airline is hoping that more cash, better training and fewer oversold flights will help the airline avoid a repeat of the controversy and public relations disaster that erupted after a passenger was dragged off one of its flights earlier this month.


CEO Oscar Munoz has continually apologized for how the airline had passenger Dr. David Dao removed from his flight.  United has since instituted 10 policy changes when it comes to overbooking flights, bumping passengers and improving customer service.  One of the new policies is to offer up to $10,000 to customers who volunteer to give up their seat on an overbooked flight.


United’s practice, however,  isn’t to avoid problems and be transparent. Its answer to the problem is to throw money at it to make it go away, not to truly fix it.   Southwest is eliminating overbooking flights entirely where United is only merely going to try and reduce it.  United never genuinely accepted blame for what happened to Dao.  United explained all the reasons why the situation got out of their control, except to say that its lack of control was the root cause of it all.  


United’s reactionary public statements, policy changes and cash settlements will not magically transform its culture as it relates to customer service overnight.  A customer connecting culture has to exist at the very core of an organization, it is something each and every employee of United needs to live and breathe everyday.  Something Southwest has been doing since its inception.  



Lou Diamond is the Founder & CEO of Thrive – a leading consulting and coaching company helping the best people and companies become even more amazing. He is also the author of the newly released international best-selling book “Master the Art of Connecting“.