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Southwest’s Apology Mocks Customer, Situation

In Apologetic rhetoric on September 22, 2007 at 12:24 pm


Earlier this month, a Southwest Airlines employee pulled 23-year-old Kyla Ebbert aside to tell her she was dressed too provocatively to board a flight. Ebbert was kept off the plane until she adjusted her mini-skirt and was only allowed to board by agreeing to cover her skirt and legs with a blanket.

After widespread news and talk show coverage, Southwest Airlines issued an apology and reparations. Both strategies, however, were at best insincere—and, at worst, a mockery of the situation and demeaning to Ebbert as well as other women offended by the airline’s actions.

In the apology released by Southwest, the airline states:

“From a Company who really loves PR, touché to you Kyla! Some have said we’ve gone from wearing our famous hot pants to having hot flashes at Southwest, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we both know, this story has great legs, but the true issue here is that you are a valued Customer, and you did not get an adequate apology. Kyla, we could have handled this better, and on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I am truly sorry…. It was never our intention to treat you unfairly and again, we apologize.”

The insincerity continued when Southwest announced it was reducing fares as a gesture of reparations:

“The publicity caught us with our pants down, quite frankly. The story has such great legs, but we have an even better sense of humor, so we’re going to jump out there and lower our fares to match the mini skirts we’ve all been hearing so much about.”

Inappropriate phrases such as “has great legs,” “caught us with our pants down,” and “lower our fares to match the mini skirts” overshadow any attempt at contrition. Simply saying “we apologize” does not an apology make. Add to that the statement “we have an even better sense of humor” and it’s no wonder why Ebbert and her attorney felt slighted by the airline’s remarks.

In the end, the question is: why mock the situation or the woman’s feelings? Would it have been so difficult for the airline to simply say–with humility and remorse–that this situation could have been handled better, and that they are truly sorry for the feelings of embarrassment that the airline’s actions and the situation have caused?

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  1. […] Additionally, although humor is not often appropriate in a corporate apology (for example, see the bad example provided by Southwest Airlines over the years), it seems to work well in this case since there was no actual harm […]

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