How the globe-trotting generation connects with airlines

I love Southwest Airlines so much that I would have changed my career path to get a job with the company.

During my job hunt, I desperately sought open positions in their communications division, which would have meant a minor modification of my long-set plan to work for an agency to working in-house for a company. I’d do most things for Southwest Airlines. And I’ve never even flown them.

That enthusiasm seems a trifle unjustified, right? But I spent a number of grad school classes analyzing and preparing marketing campaigns and studying and understanding the way brands attempt to connect with their various audiences. By the time I graduated, that work made me a loyal fan of the airline.

What attracts me to their brand is that it stands for something. Southwest is fearless in its identity, and the people at Southwest are an embodiment of its culture, which they represent by their advertising, social media efforts and flyer’s experience. It’s all connected, and it all makes sense.

We are not satisfied with the status quo. We don’t want to just board an airplane and disembark at our destination – if we did that, we wouldn’t need brands, just airlines, and wouldn’t be accused of not being brand-loyal.

My love for Southwest isn’t just about their cheap fares or the fact that my bags can fly free, although it does help. It’s about their flight attendants rapping safety instructions, a speech most people religiously ignore on every other airline.  It’s about their fun work culture that churns out one happy employee after another, and happy employees lead to happy customers. And it’s it’s about how it’s awesome that their CEO knows how to have a little fun.

But it’s not just about these one-off facts. It’s about what Southwest represents.

There’s a (true!) cliché about our generation. We have high expectations of ourselves and of those around us – including the brands with which we interact. Millennials are looking for that wee bit more, that something extra, and we understand the way the business world works. We know it costs to provide premium service, and we aren’t afraid to cough up raised costs if we think they’re justified. The era of being satisfied with the basics is gone, if it ever existed.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets that. A dismally oft-repeated example of an airline that doesn’t get it at all is — you guessed it — Delta. If anything, the number of tweets on their Twitter page about refunds should be an indication (even though I commend them for their effort). But I guess you shouldn’t expect much from a brand that is unable to render basic customer service in the first place.

The deal, in a nutshell, is this: we don’t care about brands that send out the one-size-fits-all message to the entire world. We acknowledge communication targeted directly at us, communication sent to us through the channels we use.

It sounds like we are playing hard to get, but that’s not entirely true. Like I said, we just appreciate that little extra because we’re confident consumers and, in this day and age, when we know we’re going to be destination-hopping, we are ready to give back that much more.

Photo by San Diego Shooter

Puneet Sandhu Puneet works in public relations; loves books, music and rain; will talk to strangers on the train much to the embarrassment of her companions; and possess an appetite too big for her tiny frame. She is happiest when writing and running up phone bills she cannot afford.

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2 Responses to “How the globe-trotting generation connects with airlines”

  1. Jessica

    Fantastic article! I didn’t know all that about Southwest. The truth is, consumers shouldn’t have to settle for anything less than stellar customer service. It would be great if some of the other airlines could follow in Southwest’s footsteps.

  2. Christine Peterson

    I feel similarly about JetBlue. I’ve never flown them, but gosh darn it I’d fly them every time if they only flew where I wanted to fly.

    I did fly Southwest once and it was pretty good. I’m not crazy about their whole pick-your-own-seat thing though. I felt like I was back in high school, trying to get the best seat on the school bus. I’d rather know where I’m sitting beforehand, and know that I’ll be able to sit next to whoever I’m flying with.


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