Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

Boarding a Southwest Airlines flight (Judy Baxter / Flickr)

Boarding a Southwest Airlines flight (Judy Baxter / Flickr)

Everyone loves a good airline customer service drama during the hot, sweaty and tempestuous peak summer travel season. It’s the time of year when we all love to hate the airlines.

That’s why the story about a Southwest Airlines passenger who claims that a negative tweet got him kicked off a plane spread like wildfire today.

Let’s take a look at what happened.

According to an interview with passenger Duff Watson in the New York Daily News,

The trouble started on Sunday afternoon, when Watson and his two children, age 6 and 9, attempted to board their flight  [from Denver to Minneapolis] early. Watson is part of Southwest Airlines’ ‘A-List’ program, which rewards frequently flying customers with extra perks, such as priority boarding privileges. Watson has reportedly been an A-lister for three years. Even though his children aren’t A-Listers, Watson said that he’s usually able to board early with his kids in tow. But the agent behind the podium wouldn’t let them board before the rest.

So what it sounds like to me is that Watson was asking a harried gate agent to bend the rules and let he and his kids board early, ahead of other families waiting for the family boarding call. The gate agent would not bend the rules and the two got into a heated exchange at the gate. (We’ve all been there, right?)

Watson and his kids then boarded with the rest of the families traveling together.

When Watson got on board the plane he tweeted the gate agent’s name, gate number and something about her being “the rudest agent at Southwest.”

Once everyone was on the plane, an announcement was made asking Watson and his family to get off the plane with their belongings.

Here’s what Watson told the Daily News that happened when they got off:

“We met the gate agent who was very worked up and she says because I’m using her name in social media, that I am a threat. And that’s why I’m being asked to leave,” Watson said. “Then she said, ‘You need to delete that tweet or I’m calling the cops.’

Watson said he deleted the tweet and got back on the plane and flew home with his family (and likely fumed about it the whole way).

Now lets look at Southwest’s side of the story. This afternoon, the carrier issued the following statement about the incident:

Southwest Airlines appreciates and is active in social media and it is not our intent to stifle Customer feedback. We find social media to be a very valuable avenue for engaging with our Customers.

On Sunday, July 20, a Southwest Airlines Employee and Customer were having a conversation about the airline’s family boarding procedures that escalated. The Customer was briefly removed from flight #2347 from DEN to MSP to resolve the conversation outside of the aircraft and away from the other passengers. Following a successful resolution, the Customer and his family were able to continue on the flight to Minneapolis. We are thoroughly investigating the situation. We have reached out to the Customer and offered vouchers as a gesture of goodwill.

I can see both sides of the story here.

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-scanWatson was asking the agent to bend the rules and allow him to board first with his kids. I would imagine there were probably other A-listers with families waiting for the family boarding call. Allowing Watson and his family to board early would not have been fair, and could have ended up pissing off someone else. This reeks of the whole “don’t you know who I am” (DYKWIA) attitude many elite level members are regrettably known for.

Now, when it comes to forcing the passenger to delete the tweet before allowing him to board, and stating that she felt the tweet was “threat” I think the gate agent was wrong. And it was improper of her to de-board the passenger and escalate the situation to that level.

This is likely one of many hot-headed incidents that are happening every day during the heat of the summer season. I think we all need to focus on stepping back and taking it down a notch when faced with travel hassles.

Here’s an interview with Watson on CBS Minneapolis

What do YOU think about this situation? How would you have felt if you were Watson…or the gate agent…or someone else watching all this happen? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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