Did anyone see The New York Times’s stupendous article on Southwest Airlines? It talked about how the airline commanded crazy loyalty from its employees because it had personality, because it was fanatical about getting planes turned around and giving customers what they really wanted (low fares and on-time service), because it was frugal, because it fought entrenched competitors who tried to block its entrance into a stodgy market, because it shared the wealth with its employees, who now earn sometimes twice as much as their counterparts at United.
My favorite stories were about the ground terminal old-timer who was still on the job despite “two hernia operations” and the attendant who challenged passengers to “see how many people we could lock up inside the lavatory” (seven or eight). Both have been with Southwest since it started 35 years ago, and are now millionaires. I also loved the story of how the Southwest CEO resolved a trademark dispute with another CEO via an arm-wrestling match (a video of his training for the event showed him doing sit-ups to reach a glass of scotch and a cigarette).
While we here at Redfin can’t promise anyone the success that Southwest has enjoyed, we feel in many ways like kindred spirits: in our start-up frugality, launching a business on a shoestring; in our pluck taking on one of the biggest, baddest industries around; in our do-whatever-it-takes employees who drive all over town and stay up all night to win offers; in our partnership with customers, who seemed tickled pink to be working with the world’s first online broker; in our underdog mentality, which has kept us going through thick and thin.
Of course, there is a sordid side to Southwest’s history that Redfin categorically rejects. As a 1981 court ruling on Southwest’s treatment of women (517 F. Supp. 292 (N.D. Tex. 1981)) despairingly noted: “unabashed allusions to love and sex pervade all aspects of Southwest’s public image. Its T.V. commercials feature attractive attendants in fitted outfits, catering to male passengers while an alluring feminine voice promises in-flight love. On board, attendants in hot-pants (skirts are now optional) serve ‘love bites’ (toasted almonds) and ‘love potions’ (cocktails). Even Southwest’s ticketing system features a ‘quickie machine’ to provide ‘instant gratification.’”