Southwest Airlines wants me to doodle on my napkin. They invited me, along with 141 passengers, to express myself as I see fit. Because they “LUV” me, of course!
Why this consistent, persistent, transparent emphasis on love? Why do they choose the heart as both the visual and visionary centerpiece of their corporate ethos?
The idealist might say it’s because the customer is the heart of their business. Or that, because human beings – especially 142 of them sitting shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh in a flying canister – value nothing more than to be seen, heard and understood, it’s an obvious, human-centric decision.
The cynic might say that if you are only going to offer open seating, peanuts and a tepid cup of coffee you’d better offset it with something a bit warmer, sincere or otherwise.
To crudely borrow from Karl Marx, maybe at the core of Southwest’s operating plan is a belief that love, no matter how it’s offered, is the “opiate of the masses.”
On the first leg of this trip, I witnessed a Southwest flight attendant publicly recognize a colleague’s achievement of having been chosen as the “face of the company” on their WiFi login page. He was genuine about it. She was clearly appreciative.
The instances of flight attendant repartee and the ad-libbing of otherwise tedious FAA announcements, as grating as they can sometimes be, are evidence of a humanness at the center of the enterprise. There’s a recognition of the value of creating an environment that emphasizes a “we’re all in this together” vibe accompanied by a nudge to not take it all so seriously.
Isn’t that right at the heart of what it means to love and be loved? For my part I recognize that my most loving or “in love” relationships are the ones that remind me of my basic humanness. In other words, they help me keep my feet on the ground while simultaneously equipping me to fly.
That’s something that only love can do. And it’s what Southwest exists to do; to safely take us from the ground in this place to the ground in that place, with a sojourn through the miracle of flight along the way.
I fly Southwest at least once a month these days. My experiential/anecdotal “data set” has me convinced that they mean it. And that they mean to stick with it.
Just like love in all its forms, they don’t get it right all the time. And just like love in our relationships, it has to start within. That is to say, I can’t “love my neighbor” until I love myself.
If Southwest keeps loving, they will keep flying. And I’m onboard with that.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.