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Southwest Computer Meltdown Uncharacteristically Left Travelers In the Dark

When it comes to customer service in the U.S airline industry, Southwest (LUV) is generally thought to be at the top of the list. But a major computer meltdown yesterday left a lot of people wondering where that legendary Southwest communication presence was. The airline's public face was AWOL.

Yesterday was already a big day for Southwest, as it was launching its new Rapid Rewards frequent flier program. The big day, however, didn't start off well, thanks to malfunctions on the Southwest website.

Customers couldn't change flights on line. Business passengers and travel arrangers couldn't log on to SWABIZ, the airline's corporate portal. These problems sent many people to the phones for help -- where wait times topped an hour. By the end of the business day, the problems still hadn't been resolved. In fact, things got worse before Southwest managed to get them fixed overnight.

In the afternoon, Southwest also had "Computer and Phone Problems" (according to the FAA) that caused the airline to ask the feds to hold all airplanes destined for some of its biggest cities at their originating airports. How do I know this? It was on the FAA website. And there were plenty of people complaining via social media channels about a host of issues. But it was nowhere to be found on or at any of the airline's other communications channels.

In fact, the usually gregarious Southwest was eerily quiet throughout all of this. The airline had no mention of any issues on its website. Its more than one million Twitter followers saw only 18 tweets the entire day. Seventeen of those were responses to people asking why the airline's website was melting down, and of most weren't even sent until much later in the day. The only real update was before 3p Pacific Time and was sadly not specific:

Hey folks, sorry for the issues with today. Hopefully we'll be back up to full speed soon!
Facebook wasn't any better. A similarly bland message was posted there and despite the roughly 200 comments, Southwest didn't respond to any of them publicly.

A look at the frequent flier community FlyerTalk showed a thread with nearly 200 comments about problems today as well. Someone from Southwest did chime in there during the day but only to say that they knew there are problems but they had no other news. Yikes.

What has happened to the airline that pioneered social networking and made an art form out of it? There are more questions than answers at this point, but the silence is concerning. During one of the biggest changes in the airline's history, the relaunch of its frequent flier program, the airline went into hibernation. I can't think of a good reason why that would be.

Now, if the entire PR team happened to be professional coders and were tasked with fixing the site, then I'd buy the silence. But I think we all know that's not the case. This is the kind of problem that needs frequent updates, even if there isn't anything new to say. People like knowing that someone is at least listening and responding.

Instead, Southwest looks like a more traditional legacy airline that's fumbling with how to use its words best. That's not the Southwest that most people know, and it makes me wonder what exactly has happened over there.


Photo via Flickr user randomduck/CC 2.0
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