<a href="http://time.com/3027263/southwest-airlines-kicked-family-off-plane-after-dad-tweets-complaint/" title="News Story To Which I Am Referring"
Ok. I wasn't there. I don't personally know the Operations Agent involved, but here is my opinion (that you didn't ask for but are nonetheless receiving): When I worked for Southwest, there was a common misconception that parents with small children would be pre-boarded. That is not the case. Southwest reserves pre-boarding for passengers with disabilities (or those who claim to need wheelchair assistance from the gate area to the plane despite the fact that they just walked 3x as far to get that hot dog they are eating…but that is a different rant). Southwest offers Family Boarding between the A and B boarding groups for parents with young children. The reason for that is that seats are not assigned on board. A #1-15 is Business Select and those passengers have paid a good deal more to be on the plane first (often more than double what the lowest fare was). A-List and A-List Preferred passengers also receive a priority boarding pass, typically in the A group, as well as those passengers who purchase Early Bird Check-In for an additional $12.50. That Early Bird option is available to all passengers and many take advantage of it to get on the plane sooner. A new upgrade option is also available at the airport for any unsold Business Select boarding passes–$40 gets you A #1-15 if they were not already purchased. Again, that option is available to all passengers. Worst case scenario, with young children you board between A and B. All of those scenarios get you on the plane in plenty of time to be seated together. Now, if the issue is not merely that you want seats together but that you want particular seats together, then you need to pay extra like all the other passengers vying for those seats have to do. This is not only a Southwest policy. I cannot think of a single US-based airline that does not have an up-charge for premium seats. All of that is background. I was Operations Agent for Southwest for just under 5 years and worked at airports in 5 different cities for them. In every single city, parents would complain about not being allowed to pre-board even after the policy (that is clearly spelled out on the website when you purchase your ticket) was explained. I understand it must be frustrating in many cases to jump through all the hoops of air travel with small children. I get that. Most, once the policy was explained, patiently waited for Family Boarding. Some would gripe for a minute and then wait. Some would stand directly blocking the passengers trying to board in the A group while glaring down the agent. Some would cuss at or make disparaging remarks toward the agent in front of their children who they deemed too young to sit apart from them on the plane but not too young to be taught how to verbally abuse another human being. Each of these categories would fly on a daily basis. It got old. No matter how many times the policy was explained or how sympathetically and patiently it was explained, at least once a day there would be a parent that would verbally vomit all over you. Occasionally but not often, there would be parents who would attempt to physically intimidate an agent, solidifying my theory that people lose their minds when they enter an airport. You can be 100% right as an airline employee (we are not always, but once in a while it happens), and the company may not back you up. I was once shoved out of the way of the boarding door by a man with a C boarding pass trying to board with the A group “because he had missed his flight” earlier in the day. Instead of calling the police, as I admittedly should have done, I called someone in a management position at Southwest at the airport. They let him fly. The right thing is not always done. Even when it is, perhaps someone above you will do the wrong thing and undermine it. People make mistakes.
Now, as I said, I was not present for the incident in question, but I can guarantee that I have been in similar circumstances. I have no idea if the agent was rude to the passenger. Perhaps she was, but I doubt very much that that was the inciting factor. This passenger was an A-list flyer (meaning he should have known better). I am aware that the Family Boarding policy is not followed consistently from city to city, agent to agent, but there is a common trend among families to purchase one ticket with Early Bird Check-In and then attempt to board the other four family members holding C #24-27 with A #19. This irritates the frequent fliers, the people who legitimately purchased those A boarding passes, the others waiting for Family Boarding, and the airline employees. About half the time, the agents decide to avoid confrontation and let it go. The times when they don’t, they look like a jerk and may even get a nasty-gram sent to the company on their behalf. I get it. It is not always easy to follow the policy, and I am guilty of not always doing it. My unwritten rule was if the A-list passenger came up to me prior to boarding and simply asked if his/her children could board in A, then I could have time to assess the situation. How many children? How young? Etc. If they played the entitlement or ignorance card and tried to board a family of 6 in the A group with one A boarding pass, absolutely not. The problem you run into as an Operations Agent is that you do not often have the time to have a conversation with each passenger who does not understand the policies. Southwest has the fastest turn times in the industry, so fast that they are illogical, difficult, and many times impossible to meet. Operations Agents are responsible for getting the plane out on time and are held liable if for any reason that does not happen—even if the reason is that the company has allotted a 25-minute turn with a full crew change. For those of you unfamiliar, if the plane pulls into the gate full (143 passengers), it takes approximately 10 minutes to deplane them, sometimes more if there are passengers who need wheelchair assistance or time to set up their strollers in the jetbridge. The crew changes take an additional five minutes. That leaves 10 minutes for 143 passengers to board the plane and be seated, the agent to collect paperwork from the person fueling the plane and the ramp who is loading the bags and cargo and do all the math to process the weight & balance paperwork for the pilots. They are always rushed, always trying to get the people on the plane faster than is many times possible. Honestly, that alone can probably be misconstrued as “rude” in some cases. However, if a passenger is at the gate on time, there is ample time to ask any questions they may have about the boarding process prior to handing the agent their boarding pass to get on the plane, at which point the agent needs to be boarding people as quickly as they can with as little lag time as they can manage. In the scenario that hit the news yesterday, the passenger was clearly there at the start of the boarding process since he was in the A group. He could easily have had a conversation with this particular agent or any Customer Service Agent, who are always at the gates, about the policy. The fact that he did not ask anyone makes me assume that he already knew what the policy says.
Now, this Operations Agent will not be allowed to tell her side of the story, which is a shame. This man chose to vent his frustrations and publicly shame her on the vast social media stage. She cannot respond because Southwest will not allow it. Therefore the only version of the truth we will ever hear is his. However, even those details do not paint for me a picture of innocence on his part. He was already in the wrong attempting to have his kids cut in line to board in his group. Regardless of how big or small her smile was when she explained the policy, that should have been the end of it. Not only did he post her first and last name as well as exact location on Twitter (major security issue for her personally and for Southwest), but apparently he must have thrown a tantrum while doing it because other passengers brought it to her attention. She would never have known about it if he had just shut his mouth and vented via social media as we all do at times. If he had quietly done that and refrained from giving out her personal information, we would not be talking about this. He then decided to take it further and fee-fi-fo-fum his side of the story to other news
outlets. None of this surprises me, but what does surprise me is that Southwest is standing in his corner and not their employee’s. If Herb Kelleher was in charge, you had better believe that instead of a $50 voucher, he would have received a letter stating that he was not welcome to fly Southwest again.
That is not to say that the agent is blameless. I am certain that the situation could have been handled better. Perhaps she was perceived as short or sarcastic with him when she told him they could not all board in the A group (which he probably already knew). Perhaps she argued and allowed the conversation to continue when she should have just kept boarding. Perhaps she even was rude. I have no idea. I don’t think it is the point. That conversation can be held between her and her supervisors, who hopefully already have a solid grasp on who she is as a person and an employee and know if this sort of situation is typical or out of character for her (although, from the snippets I have heard from her co-workers, she is a very good employee and would not have responded in an inconsiderate manner without provocation). Perhaps he was verbally abusive. Perhaps he has an explosive temper. Perhaps he does not like to be told “no”. That conversation can be held between him and his children, who will hopefully not learn from his example.
Bottom line: the passenger was in the wrong. The agent told him he was in the wrong. He responded maliciously by tweeting her personal information. She rightfully demanded that it be deleted before he be allowed to fly. Now he is portraying himself as a victim, and his sense of entitlement and ability to threaten others are being rewarded with an apology from Southwest and a $50 voucher. Disgusting.
P.S. Oh, also. They were allowed to fly. They were not "kicked off the plane" as the news agencies are reporting. The agent and a supervisor spoke with them in the jetbridge after they had boarded and before the plane left and allowed them to travel on their original flight. The employee should be given a $50 voucher for her inconvenience, too.