Stanton, Gallego dance on Southwest's bones
The shadow boxing for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination will be an unedifying exercise.
With Kyrsten Sinema re-registering as an independent, the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2024 becomes wide open.
It appears that congressmen Greg Stanton and Ruben Gallego will be shadow boxing over the opportunity for a while. It will be an unedifying exercise.
As an illustration, consider the recent meltdown in the operations of Southwest Airlines. For a few days, Southwest had to cancel the vast majority of its flights during the busy holiday traveling season. Tens of thousands couldn’t reach their destinations or were stranded, many separated from their luggage. The inconvenience and hardship were significant.
There were several contributing factors. However, the proximate cause seems to be a balky software program that made it more difficult for Southwest to redeploy planes and crews after some serious winter storms than was the case for other airlines.
The meltdown mess generated massive public attention. Phoenix is a major Southwest hub, so the consequences and the story resonated even more acutely here.
While the meltdown mess was still unfolding, politicians Stanton and Gallego galloped into the fray. Stanton called for Southwest’s CEO to appear before a congressional subcommittee on which he sits. Gallego fired off a letter demanding to know what Southwest was going to do to make those victimized by the meltdown whole.
It apparently didn’t occur to Gallego that Southwest’s management might have higher priorities at that moment than responding to a letter from what, in a matter of days, would be a congressional backbencher. And the hearing Stanton proposed would serve no real purpose other than give a bevy of preening politicians a theater to posture before the cameras while browbeating the political piñata of the moment. Any information about the meltdown that might actually inform any legislation will be gathered through other means.
Actually, the traveling public might be lucky if the only political reaction to the meltdown is showboating and preening.
Southwest will suffer from the meltdown in the marketplace. It will take considerable time and excellent performance for the traveling public to regard it as a reliable option. The failure of management to timely make investments in technology improvements will weigh on its stock value. In addition to the balky software, Southwest’s more scattered flying model also apparently made it more vulnerable to a difficult recovery compared to other airlines -- something consumers and investors will both take into consideration.
Is there something the market won’t do that government should do?
The government already sets requirements about reimbursing customers for lost luggage and the fare of cancelled flights. Beyond that, airlines compete on customer service in a variety of arenas, including willingness to reimburse other out-of-pocket expenses from cancelled or delayed flights. Often these decisions are made on an ad hoc, individual basis.
Southwest has pledged a generous reimbursement policy for this particular meltdown. Should government mandate a more extensive reimbursement policy for all airlines in all circumstances? That will increase airfares generally. Regulation ain’t free.
The politicians will want to keelhaul the Southwest brass before probably several congressional committee inquisitions to flay them with rhetorical whips over the balky software and the failure to invest in improvements earlier. But does anyone really want politicians and bureaucrats deciding or overseeing private sector scheduling software or believe that they have the competence to make better decisions? The federal government isn’t exactly known for being on the cutting edge of consumer technology or service.
Southwest screwed up, big time. Tens of thousands of individuals suffered significant hardship as a result.
It is inevitable that opportunistic politicians will try to exploit such a thing for their own purposes. And perhaps there is a role for government if Southwest doesn’t follow through on its pledge of generous reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses for this particular screw-up.
However, one of the resolutions our society should make for the new year is to look less to government to remedy every perceived misdeed or to see our politicians as avengers rather than, for the most, mediocre and meddlesome opportunists. The market will punish Southwest for its meltdown and increase the premium for airline reliability. Expanding the extent to which the government seeks to dictate and standardize consumer relations or technology in the airline industry is highly unlikely to improve upon that.
Reach Robb at email@example.com.