Observations on a Southwest Flight

On a flight departing 30 minutes late, one flight attendant asks for the drink coupons and checks to make sure they are valid.

The other flight attendant waves off the coupons offered to her with a playful, “Put that away.”

It’s the same airline, on the same flight, on the same day. Just two rows apart, in fact.

Is there a policy that guides these choices? Is it simply personality, one a “rule follower” and one a “free spirit”?

Do we raise an eyebrow at the inconsistency, the “unfair” treatment?

Do we celebrate Southwest’s culture of employee “ownership,” even when it’s inconsistently applied?

It’s both confusing and endlessly fascinating to observe an organizational culture this closely. An enterprise as service-oriented as Southwest – one who wants us to feel the “LUV” – only makes it a more dissected entity.

Maybe they think we don’t notice the inconsistency? Maybe they know that we do (How can you not when the “service distance” of a 737 is the equivalent of a customer walking around the Starbucks counter to stand next to the barista while ordering?) and don’t really care? And not so much a harsh “don’t care” as a subtle request that we just accept the predictable human messiness of it all.

I’m one drink coupon lighter tonight and still grateful that the aspirations of this particular organization keep me interested and aware.

I can’t think of another service organization that makes me feel that way.


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.

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