I sent Gary Kelly and Herb Kelleher of Southwest the letter below on December 9. Within a week, I started getting calls from their reps. I finally caught up with Tim last week and notes from those conversation are in italics
“I am pleased I qualified once again for the Companion Pass and the A List. I have enjoyed your airline for decades, am a shareholder, and have written nicely about you in my books and blogs, so hope you will take some constructive criticism in a few areas
a) I absolutely love the 800s and the new décor. Having said that I dread the redone 700s. By adding another row you have deprived my 6 2 foot frame and my laptop of previous 2-3 inches of space. Increase our fares 4% (to gain the same economic benefit of 6 seats more from previous 137) but take that extra row out. While you are at it, also increase the restroom space by a few inches. The new ones are not comfortable.
No immediate plans to reverse course on the additional row on the 700s
b) The Row 44 wi-fi service is a disgrace to your image. I have tried and tried – probably spent $ 200 over last couple of years, and not once have I had to work well all flight. Or I have paid and find the connecting flight does not have the service. I cannot believe you are offering movies and sports channels to tax that bandwidth even more. The GoGo air to ground service that your competition (and AirTran) uses may not suit your plans for over water expansion to San Juan etc but the majority of your service is in the Continental US. The air to satellite concept is not working out. You have given it 3+ years. Get Row 44 to work a deal with GoGo or another ground based service. Your poor crew is always having to make excuses. It’s sad to see.
“The Row44 service keeps improving. Very few of our customers complain.” To my point that on not one of the 40+ times I have paid for the service has it worked all flight long, he offered a $ 200 credit. He also clarified the TV channel does not burden the wi-fi channel. He did not know how that bandwidth could deliver jitter free service, whereas the wi-fi service was so spotty. He did not know how the service compared to GoGo on AirTran, a company Southwest acquired. He also could not accommodate my request to get operational performance and service level information. I told him after 3 years, scripted language was not going to please many customers. Southwest needs to provide more transparent wi-fi performance data.
c) I realize you are expanding routes faster than your fleet is growing, but one reason I moved my domestic business from Delta (where I am a 3 million miler) to Southwest is the breadth of your nonstops. Not having to go through Atlanta has been a joy. But in the last quarter I have seen nonstops to Phoenix and Las Vegas (and other points West) shrink. I also dread with your Atlanta hub growing you will become like Delta at least for your FL, AL and other Southeast customers.
“It’s true we are not expanding our fleet. Newer 800s are replacing older 300s which are being retired. However, Southwest is not moving to a hub and spoke model, and AirTran may also move away from the dominant Atlanta hub model.”
d) Finally, this may be a nit, but both you and Delta use similar Tibco events processing technology. With Delta, with “wheels up”, your FF miles are credited. In your case, you have to wait for a day or two after the return flight is completed. For an airline which has long endorsed one way fares, I have to ask – what are you protecting against?
The new Southwest program credits are based on ticket value, whereas Delta’s are based on miles flown. Due to revenue accounting reasons, the Southwest credits will likely never be as instant as Delta’s.
Thanks again for a relationship, I hope continues to prosper, in spite of my moaning above.
I thanked Tim for the $ 200 credit, but told him because of a) and b) and fewer nonstops from Tampa I was likely to move 20% of my business away from Southwest in 2013 and may be even more in future years. This was especially true on long flights where wi-fi and leg space are much more important. He said he was sorry to hear that, and I told him I never thought Southwest would allow other airlines a chance to open the door again for my domestic travel budget, but they have.