Southwest Airlines, known for its quick and transparent communications strategies, remained quiet in spite of a potential PR black eye. On Wednesday, July 27, two sisters flying on a Southwest Airlines flight to visit their father, who had recently suffered a heart attack, were kicked off the flight after one began crying and asked a flight attendant for a glass of wine, reported ABC News.
Ricci Wheatley and Robin Opperman were on Southwest flight 1259 from Oakland to Dallas when Wheatley became anxious because she is afraid of flying.
"I broke down and started to cry," Wheatley told ABC News, "and I'm a little bit afraid to fly, so I said to the stewardess as she was passing, 'When you're going to be serving, I'll have a glass of wine,' and she said, 'I think you've had enough.' Of course I hadn't had any on the airplane."
Robin said her sister was crying softly and quietly, and that “it was not a crying that anybody would hear." After the encounter with the flight attendant, the sisters were removed from the flight.
Whitney Eichinger, senior manager of public relations at Southwest Airlines, told PR News, “We do feel like our flight crew responded to the situation appropriately. One of these customers entered into a verbal altercation with one of our flight attendants and the flight attendant deemed the customer unfit to fly.”
Eichinger said the two customers were booked on the next available flight, which was the following morning.
As an airline that has spent decades building relationships with the media and its customers, Southwest has established a culture of openness, a commitment to communication and the ability to quickly take action, as proven by its recent handling of a situation in which it had to ground its fleet after having one of its planes rip open in midair.
Rather than jumping out in front of a potential powder keg situation that could ignite the blogosphere, Southwest chose not to issue a formal statement on its blog or social media outlets to address the situation, an uncharacteristic move for the airline.