November 29, 2017 View in browser
On a Southwest flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta last week, the aircraft's flaps malfunctioned, forcing the pilots to circle for about 20 minutes to decide how to proceed. Eventually, they landed faster than usual, causing the 737-700's brakes to overheat.

It was the kind of minor mechanical issue that happens every day at every airline. Passengers were not in danger, and other than a slight delay on the ground while waiting for the brakes to cool, there was little inconvenience.

I was on that flight, and thought little of it until the next day, when I received an email from Southwest. It explained what happened in surprising detail, and said, "Thank you for your patience during this delay, and I hope you will accept my sincere apologies for any uneasy feelings you may have had about the overall situation." The airline sent a $100 travel certificate.

It seemed odd the airline would send $100 to passengers for what amounted to a 45-minute delay. But it is standard practice, Southwest Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson told me in a series of messages. He said airline travel is a repeat purchase business, and noted $100 isn't much to keep a customer loyal — even if that passenger flies only once a year. "Keeping customers coming back is far cheaper than acquiring new ones," he said. "But we do both."

These emails come from what Southwest calls its proactive customer service team. Team members follow problems with flights, and try to keep passengers updated, Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said. After a medical emergency, he said, the team's email might say, "We're happy to let you know the gentleman paramedics transported via ambulance is doing well."

Most airlines have teams handling customer service issues, but this group seems more engaged than most. And if agents are handing out vouchers daily to customers that might not even have complaints, it must get expensive quickly. With 143 seats on the plane, this standard mechanical problem might cost Southwest as much as $14,300 in future revenue.

What do you think? Should airlines reach out to customers so soon? Or is it better for an airline to wait until it receives complaints to send vouchers?

Send me an email at with your thoughts. Or tweet me. Or even send me an Instagram DM.
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IAG Is Bringing Discount Airline Level to Paris
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Lufthansa to Offer Revamped Business Class With Seats 7 Feet Long
Lufthansa has had an uncompetitive business class for more than a decade, but by 2020 when new Boeing 777s arrive, that will begin to change. Last week, it unveiled pictures of its new cabin, which eventually also will be used by other Lufthansa Group airlines. What's interesting is that Lufthansa is not making all seats identical. Some will be longer, and some will be more spacious. Passengers can choose which they prefer, though if some seats end up being more desirable, Lufthansa likely will charge extra for them, or hold them for elite frequent flyers.

American Airlines Extremely Bullish on the Future
American President Robert Isom is not as quotable as his predecessor, Scott Kirby, but he knows how to stick to talking points. Here, Isom hits most of them, telling the Associated Press American's plans for basic economy, premium economy and on-time performance are on track. Also, he said, American will make money in good times and bad.

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A Good Night's Sleep Is the Latest Front in Airlines' Battle for Highest-Paying Customers
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The CEO of the Oldest Airline in the World Explains the Major Mistake the Industry Made 20 Years Ago
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This and that: American Airlines is constructing five new gates at Chicago O'Hare, and American spokeswoman Leslie Scott toured the construction zone, saying the gates for regional jets will open in Spring 2018. They're the first new gates for any airline at O'Hare since the "new" international terminal opened in 1993, according to American. ... Air Canada is rewarding elite frequent flyers with free Gogo subscriptions, but let's hope the systems have the bandwidth to support them. ... United Airlines is asking flight attendants to improve hawking the airline's credit cards, promising a $50 pre-tax bonus for each approved application. "It's our goal to win against other airlines, and new credit card accounts is an area that is currently a competitive disadvantage for us," United told flight attendants in a message. ... Delta said it completed the five-day Thanksgiving period — Wednesday to Sunday — without canceling a mainline or Delta Connection flight. ... Meanwhile, United said more flights departed on-time or early on Nov. 24 than any day in its history. ... Someone paid $3,800 on Ebay for a pair of business class seats removed from a United Boeing 747

Radio Gig: I'm the new airline analyst for "The Opening Bell," a morning radio program on WGN in Chicago. We're taping 10-minute segments, airing Friday, about what's new in the airline industry. You can listen live, or catch one of the segments on WGN's website.
Skift Airline Business Reporter Brian Sumers [] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send me an email or tweet me.
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