I rarely write about general business news, but my parents just had the most bizarre flight experience on Southwest Airlines #3914 from Las Vegas to Islip, Long Island on Dec 26, 2008. I'm a big fan of SWA, particularly for its no hidden fees policy, which trumps every other airline in the US, but this incident is causing me to reconsider Southwest's policies.
My parents' flight took off from Las Vegas at 5PM, 2 hours late due to the connecting flight arriving late. That's not the end of the world, especially for my parents, who have flown extensively all over the world. However, the bizarre behavior began 30 minutes in when the flight attendant announced over the speakers that someone had stolen 2 bottles of wine from the drink cart, and that if that person didn't turn themselves in, they would land the plane in order to deal with the incident.
And yes, 45 minutes later, the plane proceeds to divert to Denver where upon the police come on to the plane and haul away the man who was suspected of stealing the wine. To make things even worse, the FBI also has to come to the plane ("transporting wine over state lines" or "wine kidnapping"?) and then investigate the incident, fill out paperwork, etc. One would assume both the FBI and local police have other things to do besides deal with wine thieves, but apparently not on SWA, where this incident is worth diverting an entire plane of 200 people for 3 hours.
So the plane finally leaves Denver, and arrives in NY around 4.5 hours late, but according to the flight attendant, "the safety of the plane was at risk", so everyone should feel better about the response. I could think of other responses:
- Deal with it when you land in NY
- Take up a collection from the passengers to pay for the wine - as one person said, "it's white wine on SWA, how much can it cost?"
- Ignore it and focus on the rest of the passengers experience
Now it's possible that this suspect was actually much worse than a wine voleur, and that this was just part of an elaborate plot to do something much worse or that he was some other type of security risk, but it seems unlikely since my mother spoke to the man's row-mate, who said that the suspect was quiet and didn't seem to be bothering anyone.
However, SWA and its lead flight attendant felt that it was worth diverting an entire plane to deal with it, and unless there was something much more serious that no one understood, they really should apologize to the passengers rather than give some vague statement about how it was a security risk since, even post 9/11, not everything is a security risk - sometimes it's just people acting stupidly.