Southwest Hits Turbulence With Ticket Troubles

Facebook has become the go-to destination for organizations when they come up with a big campaign to present to the masses.

Communications departments look to build a larger consumer base by increasing the number of “likes” on their individual pages. In many ways, Facebook has become the fastest and most financially smart way to advertise what is going on with a business.

And with anything on social media, it can be good…and bad.

Southwest Airlines recently experienced both.

On August 3, the airline celebrated reaching 3 million likes on its Facebook page. A press release said “Southwest Airlines was the first airline to reach a million Facebook Fans back in 2010, and now is the first airline worldwide to amass three million Facebook Fans!”

With the achievement, Southwest wanted to maximize the social media momentum by offering a special discount for fans. Facebook friends could receive 50% off of a roundtrip ticket by entering the special promotional code: LUV2LIKE. It was a perfect plan for the airline to maximize its social media presence by engaging consumers and offering incentive for interaction online.

And as quickly as the PR pros celebrated a successful online campaign, they had to switch into crisis management mode.  

By late Friday and on into Saturday, August 4, there was no luv lost as numerous customers reported having being billed numerous times for a single flight. The social media tone went from celebration and praise to anger as, according the Associated Press, “hundreds of frustrated would-be fliers wound up posting stories on Facebook about how their credit and debit cards were being repeatedly charged, in some cases 20 or more times for a single flight.”

Southwest responded fast and exhibited transparency by posting messages on Facebook addressing the mistake and assuring consumers that “Southwest Airlines is committed to providing customers with exceptional service both online and onboard. Our goal was to resolve this issue as quickly as possible to minimize any inconvenience to you, our valued customers.”

In the midst of a crisis, Southwest made sure to keep consumers, even though many were unhappy, informed on what steps were being taken to eliminate the problems. A posting on Southwest provided specific details.

Not only was the airline forced to tackle a crisis management problem, but the communications team had the challenge of responding on the weekend. As PR News examined in a previous post, when a crisis happens late on a Friday or into the weekend, it doesn't have to huge problem, as long as a plan is in place. 

Hopefully for Southwest, they’ll emerge from this crisis with a smooth landing.  

Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson