It’s too long.
But, this grievance has been germinating for seven years, finally sprouting into Flog form after I recently received an email from Southwest Airlines professing they’d LUV to get my feedback about my Southwest Experience on a September 6th flight from Phoenix to Seattle. They even thanked me in advance for my time.
Never thank a writer in advance for feedback – especially a retired advertising man who is still compensating for having spent decades figuring out how to coherently compress volumes of information into 30-second TV commercials, 10-second radio spots and 7-word billboards. It’s like opening your kitchen to a herd of starving javelinas.
Exercising remarkable restraint, I decided to spare whoever was on the receiving end of Southwest’s reply email and instead penned a few J lines to Southwest’s CEO and President, Gary Kelly. I consider Gary a close, personal friend, even though we have never met. But he writes to me in English and Spanish regularly via his Southwest Airlines In-Flight Magazine, so I know he thinks highly of me.
I LUV U 2! Southwest has been my favorite airline since 1972 when I predicted your airline would never make it because your gate attendants were dressed for tennis. How wrong I was. Your staff and advertising have great personality and a wonderful sense of humor. Of course, you had me at cheap air fare and bags-fly-free. You are the millennium (lite) version of Mary Wells Lawrence.
I received an e-mail invite to respond to a survey about my Southwest Experience. Being that we are so chummy, I thought I would respond directly to you. Buckle up Gary, return your seat-back and tray-table to the upright and locked position, and turn off Angry Birds. The ride could get bumpy.
Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, My wife, Margaret, and I boarded a Southwest flight from Phoenix to Seattle. Taking advantage of the only worthwhile perk available to someone with Parkinson’s (early boarding), Margaret buckled her seatbelt (at least a half-hour before the flight attendant’s enlightening demonstration of how to fasten a seatbelt) and promptly fell sound asleep in an aisle seat. I tucked myself comfortably into the window seat and amused myself watching baggage handlers flinging luggage off a little train onto a large pile on the ground. The Samsonite Gorilla had nothing on those guys.
The first passenger with an “A” on her ticket came aboard and zeroed in on the first empty seat she saw; between me and my sleeping wife. Before she said a word, I got up and offered her my window seat. She accepted my gracious offer graciously and even managed to squeeze past the sleeping beauty gracefully. Her name was not Grace.
After the plane took off, I introduced myself to our new row-mate and explained Sleeping Beauty was my wife. Window Seat turned out to be a Katrina survivor from Biloxi and a graduate of Lincoln High School in Tacoma where she was headed for a reunion. She had a tear in her eye.
“My husband insisted I go,” she told me. The tear expanded as she continued, “ The storm did terrible damage to our home and store.” She’d owned and operated a liquor store in Biloxi for a quarter-century. I murmured comforting sounds as she gave me more gory details of the hurricane. About that time Margaret awoke an I introduced her to my new friend from Mississippi. Margaret was born and raised in Memphis and had spent time in Biloxi. They both spoke Southern fluently and really hit it off.
When the flight attendant stopped by with the peanuts and I gleefully held my hands out like a kid under a piñata an extra-juiced Bonds just took a swing at. The attendant stingily gave me one bag and swiftly disappeared down the aisle. I pinched the top of my tasty little treasure and pulled. And pulled. I pulled, yanked, twisted, bit, gnashed, gnashed-and-growled, and psychically sent enough dynamite to split open Mount Everest, all to no avail. Margaret flexed her muscles and smugly stepped up but failed on her first attempt. I wanted those peanuts so I gave her a mulligan. No success. Biloxi intervened but didn’t get anywhere either. I thanked her for playing (I already had given her my window seat so I offered no consolation prize).
I took the stubborn peanuts home and telephoned King Nuts in Solon, Ohio. I asked to speak with the company King. The receptionist however, was more protective than Mitt Romney’s Swiss banker.
“If his Highness can’t speak to me now,” I asked, “Would you please give me an address to write him? She gave me an address for Martin Kanan with all the charm of a clerk at the DMV complaint desk.
Despite her rude-i-tude, I wrote my tragic peanut story, wrapped it around the offending peanut bag and snail-mailed it off to Martin Kanan. I explained in the letter that as a peanut-nut and frequent Southwest flyer, I had been assured by several Southwest employees that although most bags opened with relative ease, I was far from the only sufferer of peanut envy. They supported my assertion that I should write King Nuts. I requested that King Kanan submit the stubbornly still un-opened bag to Quality Control for an open-ability assessment.
More than a month (and several more Southwest flights) later, I still had not received Mr. Kanan’s response. I telephoned King Nuts again and was greeted with the comment, “Oh you’re the guy who wrote the letter. Yes, Mr. Kanan received it, but I doubt you’ll hear back from him.”
I initially suspected that my letter had been deposited in the circular file before Mr. Kanan ever asked for the mail, but it occurred to me maybe they couldn’t open the bag either and they were too embarrassed to admit it.
On yet another flight after sending the letter to King Nuts, my airplane nut problem intensified when I was handed a sealed, but obviously empty package of King Nut brand honey roasted peanuts. I switched into What-would-Deepak-Chopra-Do? mode and thanked the heavens that at least I didn’t need to bother stressing over whether I could get the bag open.
The flight attendant told me he found empty bags a couple times a week and the non-opening bags were a bigger problem. I promised the attendant I would contact King Nut again.
Mr. Kanan’s secretary must have been on vacation (or perhaps became Mitt Romney’s tax accountant) because my second letter got through. I received the following response.
Hello, I am the CEO of King Nut. I am very glad to hear that you have written and I must apologize, I did not receive your letter. We are diligently working on a system to fix the empty bag situation and although we make about 500,000,000 little bags per year, a few times per week on a Southwest flight is too many for us.
Also, we have procedures in place to make sure there is a nice tear notch in every single one of those bags to ensure ease in opening. I am sorry you received a bag that did not have a tear notch—because without one, they are indeed very difficult to open.
I am copying my department heads on your below email so we may improve ourselves. And, thank you again, because it is people like you who write to us—this only helps us become a better company. Best regards,
Well at least someone at King Nuts went to PR school. Just the right amount of schmooze without knocking the company or the customer.
Gary, that might be the end of the story, but for my September 2012 flight from Phoenix to Seattle, when I was once again presented with a notch-less, unopenable bag of King Nuts brand peanuts. I admit I didn’t struggle too long with the bag this time … I was traveling with my two young grandchildren and didn’t want them to pick up any new vocabulary words that might inadvertently spew forth.
I tucked the bag in my pocket and brought it home.
I think it’s high time Southwest Airlines takes a new route in the no-frills frill department. Frankly with all the nut allergies and allergic nuts taking to the skies these days, the flight attendants should hand out five dollar bills (not in bags). The passengers will appreciate the diversity plus I promise not to write you any more letters. About peanuts.