Southwest Airlines was founded 52 years ago with the idea of democratizing air travel. It combined high reliability, low fares and a kitschy attitude to become the nation’s favorite airline. With taglines like, “You are now free to move about the country,” and its unique open seating model, Southwest projected a sense that it was different, that it had cracked the code on how to run an airline that was both fun and competent.
There have been cracks in that mystique for several years – the last fatality on a major airline was on a Southwest flight in 2018 and there has been grumbling for some time from FAA employees about the airline’s safety practices – but this is the week that Southwest was exposed as just another airline. The company’s incompetence managing its network of flights during a brutal cold snap, combined with the resulting abysmal customer service, showed that Southwest has been coasting on its reputation for some time now.
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