Southwest Airlines Social Media PR Disaster – What Would You Do?

No love for SWA
No love for SWA

This past week Southwest Airlines experienced how one single customer with one single tweet and one single employee can result in a Public Relations disaster.

The story:

Duff Watson

Duff Watson, a Father from MN, was kicked off a Southwest airlines flight after he sent a tweet that called out a specific gate agent by name.

I’m not going to get into the details for you as you can read more here in People magazine.   However, to be quick:

  • Watson expected to receive VIP treatment (he earned it) from Southwest allowing him to board first, along with his two daughters.
  • SWA policy does not extend this VIP treatment to family members.
  • Dad told this.
  • Dad not happy (who would be?).  Goes on board the flight.
  • Dad Tweeted “something to the effect of, ‘Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA,’ “
  • Dad (and two daughters) called over the intercom and asked to deplane.
  • Dad confronted by the gate agent and asked to either A) delete the tweet or B) get off the flight
  • Dad deleted the tweet, took the flight, and started a media firestorm.

The PR Lessons learned:

One single customer, tweeting one single tweet, and one single employee can create a PR disaster that no “crisis” communications agency can prepare you for.

This is the age of real time customer reactions to brand experiences.

Right now !  Right now I LOVE SWA.  Right now I HATE SWA.   I’m tweeting about it.  NOW.

What Would You Do?

First, as a Dad and a customer I would have NEVER deleted the tweet when I was blackmailed by the gate agent.   As a Dad and a customer I would have called the nearest TV station / radio station and made sure that they had the story, live, and on the air.

As a company?

I would have a clear policy in place that no single gate agent or staff member EVER demands that a customer remove their right to freedom of speech.

If a company wants to participate in the conversation with their customers, prospects and even “haters” then they need to take the good with the  bad.

In this particular case, the customer was not threatening the agent.  He did call her out by “name”, that much is true.  However, when you are in a public customer service role, at an AIRPORT !, there is no protection of your privacy.  There is no expectation that your photo should not be taken.  None.

SWA response online is here and below.

Do you think that they handled this well?


SWA Twitter Response