Once upon a time, there was an evil company that screwed its loyal customers and never made things right. That’s the bedtime story we hear every night at Scambook, and it doesn’t give us sweet dreams. But we’re using our insomnia to work hard round the clock and make more happy endings for the wronged consumers in these nightmare tales. Today, we’re sharing the story of Southwest Airlines, who created a huge mess over the weekend but cleaned it up on their own with admirable rapid-response time. Southwest saw that a computer glitch over-charged travelers during a limited time offer for discount airfare. Instead of shrugging it off and waiting for the complaints to roll in, as so many companies do, Southwest has scrambled to make things right and issue refunds en masse. They’re even covering the overdraft fees that were charged to some customers’ debit cards.
On Friday, August 3, Southwest Airlines reached 3 million fans on Facebook and launched a ticket sales promotion to celebrate. They emailed their Facebook fans a special promo code to receive up to 50% off on select round-trip “Wanna Get Away” flights this fall. Talk about an incredible deal! To book these low-priced fares, customers had to log in and buy their flights before midnight on Friday. That’s where things went horribly wrong – only consumers didn’t need to reach 20,000 feet to find themselves in a nightmare, and there was no Twilight Zone gremlin tugging at the wires inside Southwest’s computers.
The overwhelming response to the promotion caused a glitch in Southwest’s computer
servers that over-charged customers’ accounts. The website wouldn’t load properly, and each time a customer hit “refresh” on their browser, they were unintentionally buying another ticket. Travelers who wanted to book a single trip were charged for ten additional flights, or more! One Southwest customer in Denver was reportedly charged for 35 seats on a round-trip flight to Philadelphia. The airline’s Facebook page was soon flooded with comments from unhappy consumers.
“How many seats are on a plane?” wondered Nancy Olewnick, the would-be passenger from Denver. “I have a whole plane if anyone wants to go. I was infuriated that a business could allow my credit card to be charged over 35 times.”
A Southwest spokeswoman estimated that several thousand consumers were impacted by the erroneous multiple bookings.
How did Southwest respond?
“We want you to know that we are working to identify duplicate bookings and charges and are proactively cancelling those additional reservations, actively processing refunds to the Customer,” the company said in a press release issued on Saturday. “In order to process the refunds as quickly as possible, we have called in additional staff to support these efforts … It is our goal to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and minimize any inconvenience to you, our valued Customers.”
On Sunday, Southwest released another update about the situation: “Our Employees worked tirelessly to resolve the issue and have confirmed that the duplications are no longer occurring. By initiating an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, we have identified all Customers impacted and proactively initiated refunds back to their financial institutions for any erroneous bookings … We have heard Customer concerns regarding cancellation of their original reservation and have instructed our Employees to restore the itinerary, honoring the original fare.”
Additionally, the company is offering to reimburse any overdraft fees charged to customers’ banking accounts. Customers who booked a flight on their debit card are urged to contact Southwest with a note from their bank or financial institution. “If you incurred overdraft fees, please fax documentation of those fees via a letter from your bank or a copy of your account showing the fees to 877-506-0154,” said the Sunday press release.
Concerned customers can contact Southwest online or call (800) 435-9792.
And how did Southwest customers react?
Friday’s over-charged ticket fiasco proves that customer service response time, corporate humility and an incredible deal can go a long way to soothe consumer wounds. By the end of the weekend, Southwest’s Facebook fan page was dominated by positive feedback, according to The Los Angeles Times. Travelers were pleased that Southwest tackled the problem so swiftly. And, of course, they were thrilled that the airline is honoring the original deal. “I got 39 emails [about my flight] but Southwest Airlines took care of it quickly and professionally,” commented a passenger from Albuquerque, NM. “Well worth it!!![sic]”
Still, many customers are angry that Southwest allowed this to happen in the first place, and they’re absolutely right. A huge company like Southwest should have been better prepared for the increased traffic on their website. Some consumers who were over-charged can’t afford to wait for their refunds. “You wiped out my checking account!” wrote another commenter. “Are you going to pay my bills? Put gas in my car while I wait?”
Time will tell how many customers Southwest may have lost in this ticket deal disaster. There’s no excuse for a problem that affects consumers on this magnitude, but we applaud Southwest’s damage control. They held themselves accountable for their mistake and made a considerable effort to resolve it as quickly as possible. We hope that other companies will learn from Southwest’s example.
If you have a problem, you shouldn’t run from it. You should meet it, head-on. That advice might sound cliché, but it’s true – for individuals and businesses. Don’t ignore complaints. Resolve them.