Southwest’s Laraba says booking glitch “neither the experience nor the impression we hope to leave with our customers”

At this hour, the likely culprit in this weekend’s Southwest Airlines fare-sale drama is a faulty database, which triggered an excess of 10,000 double-bookings. You’ve read the horror stories. I asked Teresa Laraba, the airline’s senior vice president for customers, to explain what went wrong and what customers should do if they’re affected.

So what happend?

It was a technological issue and challenge that I’m glad to say our teams worked hard to find and fix within hours of this problem surfacing.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group. Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

It’s unfortunate, it’s neither the experience nor the impression we hope to leave with our customers, and we’re reaching out to each of them to let them know how much we value their business and their trust.

We’re also sending a $150 LUV voucher, as we call it, so they can come back soon and have the Southwest experience we work hard to provide everyday.

How many transactions are affected?

We fly more than 100 million customers every year and we book a considerable number of people every day at Southwest.com.

The impact of this issue was felt by thousands, yet represented only a percentage of our overall bookings over the weekend.

Those customers will hear from us that we’ve fixed their travel arrangements, we’re sorry, and we’ll do better next time.

(Update: A Southwest source says the final count will probably be more than 10,000 bookings.)

How could Southwest have prevented this?

That’s part of the learning process for us and by knowing what went wrong, we’ll work to ensure we get to a point where this does not happen again.

We constantly monitor the health and performance of the various systems that come into play every day in running America’s largest domestic carrier.

Are refunds being handled manually?

We have systems that helped us identify which customers were affected and pulled up those original and duplicate bookings, and our employees are investigating reservations to make sure that our customers plans are as they intended.

If passengers dont hear back from Southwest should they dispute the charges?

As of Sunday morning, we’ve processed all of these refunds. Depending on the financial institution, the refunds could take up to several days to show up in their accounts.

We’ll work hard to make sure these customers know we’re sorry and keep them from having to do anything else on this matter.

For people who used debit cards and got hit with overdraft fees as a result of additional charges, we’re reimbursing them.

If they have a pending authorization tying up their credit even though the refund is in the works, we’ll do our best to work with their bank to get the authorization lifted.

Are you planning any changes as a result of this incident?

We’re not drifting from our focus of providing exemplary customer service, even when the unplanned happens.

Sometimes it’s weather, sometimes it’s not our fault, and sometimes it is. What we can control is how we respond and handle the unplanned and I’m proud of the work our folks did to get our affected customers through this as quickly as possible.

The complex systems that help power Southwest.com are constantly being improved and strengthened — and that won’t change.

37 thoughts on “Southwest’s Laraba says booking glitch “neither the experience nor the impression we hope to leave with our customers”

    1. Um…. I’m sorry, did you not read the responses? I would agree that while most are phrased in corporate lingo, she gets across an answer to each question. I don’t expect her to go into the details of the software glitch that caused the double-bookings; it’s enough (I think) to know that they know it’s a glitch and have fixed or are working on fixing it. She didn’t need to give an exact number of transactions affected; “thousands” (with the later clarification that it was probably a little more than 10,000) is a nice solid reference point considering there are more than 100 million bookings in a year.

      Her statement about learning process says, in essence, we’re working to understand what went wrong – and if you don’t think they’re going to do what it takes to make sure it doesn’t happen again, you don’t know Southwest. The question about manually checking, she answered – they’re using the system to identify people with double-bookings and then manually fixing them once they’re sure it’s a problem.

      Asked about disputing the charges, she said “we’ve processed all of these refunds…We’ll work hard to …keep them from having to do anything else on this matter.” Ergo, they shouldn’t have to dispute the charges.

      And when asked if anything would change as a result of this event, she said, to paraphrase: problems do arise, and we bust our butts to fix them when they do. I would take that as a “we’ll fix this specific problem but we don’t think we need to change the way we respond to problems when they arise, because we do a good job.”

      I think she covered everything.

      1. I’m not knocking Southwest. Huge, unexpected error and they’re doing the best they can to address and rectify the situation in a timely manner. More than most airlines would do, I think. But the fact that you had to paraphrase and interpret all of her answers sort of makes my point, though. The best response from any customer service person, particularly when the problem is sizable, is a direct answer. Don’t dress it up and don’t be vague. Given that Southwest is known for excellent customer service in an industry that’s not, I expected a bit of a different response.

        1. Southwest’s corporate lingo is obfuscation. Just say yes or no. These answers are garbage. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If she means all these responses to the specific questions, then she is one confused lady.

  1. To Southwest’s credit, they aren’t asking for people to call in before they’ll get their $150 voucher. This, sadly, is much better than the norm…

    Most places that make errors like this will only, when pressed, and after much wrangling, cover overdrafts/bounced check fees/etc.

    1. I swear if the employees spent more time on things like fixing the glitch in their fare computers instead of getting on the forums and sticking up for the company SWA would have a lot less problems. Yea I’m talking about the first two posts. If you aren’t employees then you have some weird penchant to SWA that can’t be explained.

      1. I’m fascinated by this thought process. Anybody that thinks Southwest has done the right thing is either an employee or an industry shill? For the record, I do not work for Southwest or any travel company. (I’m an Engineer for a computer company.)

        Even if you don’t believe me, if you’d spent any time at all here, you’d quickly realize that Raven is anything but an industry (or Southwest) shill.

      2. No, I don’t work for SWA. If I “work” for an airline, it’s UA/CO because I get more miles from them than I do on my car in a year!

        Just a regular flier here, pal. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly out there and I’m just saying that SWA seems to be handling this with class. They are giving refunds, paying overdraft fees, and giving vouchers.

        It’s a clear screw up, but you can judge a business by how they handle those screw ups.

        Sit down and let the grown ups talk, k?

  2. Southwest is handling this with class.

    Had this been “the new United” they probably would’ve charged cancellation fees for the glitch-booked tickets!

    Gotta keep SMI/J rollin’ in the dough!

    1. Hey Raven! Check out Ron’s reply to my post below! Apparently we both work for Southwest now, or are willing slaves to their siren call of cheap airline seats! Who knew?

      1. Wow, he’s an ignorant twit, isn’t he? LOL.

        Funny thing, I was pricing seats for the trip with the baby…SWA is higher than UA/CO. So…??? And I mean much higher…over $100 a seat higher!

        1. which post are you refering to? There is a valid issue here if you looked at their facebook corporate page. With Southwest its a different booking model…you need to book farther in advance which is driven by their pricing model. Thus when you get to 2-3 weeks before your flight you will find southwest higher because many booked first on southwest. Also when looking at costs remember to take into account thecheck baggage fees.

          1. Flight is in October. Everything HOU –>PVD is over $400 per ticket and that’s on the “Wanna Get Away” round trips.

          2. You are flying in October—I am guessing peak fall color time. You need to book ahead on Southwest. Not sure of your itinerary…but I just looked on southwest HOU-PVD frying Wed night 10/10-return Tues 10/16 in the am is $320. The seconfd Monday in October is Columbus Day which is a holiday observed in the northeast at least (not as much elsewhere in the country).
            I am willing to wager if you planned your trip ahead and looked when the window for Ocotber opened up you would have start seeing RT fares in the $275 range.

          3. Except I can fly UA from IAH –> BOS and rent a car for less than the HOU –> PVD route.

            I get free luggage on UA due to status, so that’s not a selling point for me.

        2. Ive been looking at WN out of DEN too and tis higher than the new UA too. I was shocked. I really am ready to jump ship.

          1. Seriously. I can fly UA IAH –> BOS and rent a car for less than it is to go WN into PVD.

          2. Just tried my upcoming work trips, DEN-BOS. WN is running $789.60 as the cheapest and UA is running $669.60 as the cheapest. Unfortunately the WN times stink and WN won’t re-book me in anything but WN while UA will and baggage is also free for me on UA. Pre merger UA was typically $300-$400 on the same route.

          3. B6 only has one non stop a day on the days I fly and it’s a red eye one way and very late at night the other way. WN has 2 non-stops a day. UA has 3 non stops a day.

    2. BS, Southwest airlines has ruined my life and many others for the immediate future. They stole $2000 from me and my family and have yet to return it. We have not food or gas money as SWA website completely drained my bank account. Shut the F up to all of you idiots defending SWA. I hope one day this happens to you and then let’s see you defend these A holes!!

  3. Why does she have to issue PR speak? Southwest NEVER used to use PR speak when it dealt with these things – they answered the question clearly and did not use it as a reason to tell us that tens of millions of passengers have traveled without this problem – so what? They messed up THESE reservations and need to fix them.

    I don’t really care that they ‘constantly monitor the health and performance of the various systems . . .” blah blah blah: obviously – they DON’T. Or they would have CAUGHT this before ten thousand people started calling their phone lines.

    How many people were affected? She NEVER answered the question. Whats the problem? She doesn’t know? Bull. What a crock.

    Now – moving on after the issue – There are SEVERAL LESSONS HERE:

    1. NEVER use a debit card to BUY ANYTHING. I’ve said this before – NEVER USE A DEBIT CARD – you should not even possess one. If your credit card gets ‘over’ used like this by mistake – whose money gets taken? Not yours – the BANK’s money gets borrowed for free. If your debit card gets stolen – YOUR money gets stolen – your other checks and payments bounce – and you have to deal with the bank, the affidavits, and proving you did not use the card – you ever tried to prove a negative? And you have only a fraction of the protections you have with credit cards –

    2. ALWAYS use a form of payment that is trackable – and does not involve direct access to your money – such as paypal or a check – again – if there are multiple charges or if your card is stolen – again – whose money gets taken by the thieves? Yours or the banks?

    1. I agree with you on the debit cards. Unless you have absolutely no ability whatsoever to obtain an actual credit card, never, ever, carry, use, or accept, a debit card. There are no advantages whatsoever, and many disadvantages for consumers

      1. Lot’s of young people (students) and credit impaired people of all ages need to use a Debit Card. Some people do NOT want a credit card even if their credit score is good.

        1. There is always a pre-paid credit card. It’s not as nice, but still safer than a debit card. My Credit Union actually issues these, I tell them how much to transfer and they put it on the credit card. I don’t actually use one, but I looked into it once. I just use a credit card instead.
          I like to have an ATM card just in case I need cash, and my credit union kept insisting on issuing a debit card, but I asked the manager an they issued me a standard ATM card, which can not be used as a Debit Card. They charged me a $5 one time fee for this which I thought was well worth it.

          1. That’s good to know. Actually I have many customers who pay (airline tickets) with debit cards. I often tell them first to call their banks because of the $1K max limit the most debit cards have by default. You would be surprised how many people use debit cards. One of my clients is a NYC top fashion model (I cannot name for privacy) but she has been paying with a debit card for years. Her most recent ticket just bought end of July and she came back a few days ago. Models are also (international) road warriors.

  4. Stiff happens. It appears that SW dealt with the problem as quickly as it could. It does not appear that customers should lose any money on this issue. The only issue that I have with the refund is the problem I have with all refund processes. How can they take the payment immediately but not not refund for a number of days?

  5. Corporate credibility score: zero. She sounds just like a vague, unsure politician. Get to the point and say it clearly.

  6. Be prepared for things to happen when you travel. Delta, United, Useless air, and every single little operation, has problems. How they deal, is what makes an airline. Southwest made an offer to those bumped. Great. Did they offer to re-accomodate the people on another airline, betcha not, as they have NO interface with other airlines. I’ll bet not one person that was bumped went to a supervisor and demand that they apply the “involuntary” bump clause. It is in each airline’s tariff rules and the average gate agent does not wish to disclose it., 10,000 passengers got ripped off again.

    1. No one got bumped in this situation. They just all got overcharged multiple times for the same ticket.

      I do agree that the lack of interline connections for SWA means you are stuck with them when things do go wrong and that is the one major drawback with flying them.

      1. Unless you are flying on an “expensive” fare code, do not expect the classic carriers to endorse you either. Discount fare ticket specifically have NON-ENDORSE notes on them.

        1. I will tell you that on a daily basis, we have airlines reschedule are clients on different airlines with the major exception of Southwest and Airtran. They are all on super-saver tickets. It just takes a lot of phone hours and knowing the correct phone numbers to stay out of India answering the phones. I never tell the airport that I am a travel agent, and I get moved 15% of the time because the airlines are so horrible. Delta switched me to United last week SEA-PIT because they cancelled the flight.

          1. I won’t dispute you and your wisdom. You are correct. I should have qualified my post. The times where I do not see this working is when the flights on the classic US carriers themselves are merely interlined on an international carrier’s ticket.

            Most of the tickets I do are all International. Many of them have interlined flights to international gateways (i.e. JFK, EWR, ORD, LAX, ATL, SFO, etc.). Since the tickets were sold (validated) by International airlines that do not fly US domestic (because they may not under US laws), then these international airlines rely on [mostly lousy] American carriers to haul their passengers to their own gateways. When these interlined segments fail, the US carrier simply cannot endorse the pax over to another US airline since it is NOT their ticket. The international airline is not even present in that inland airport where the passenger is beginning their journey. So the pax must call the international carrier and get them to do a re-route and issue valid ticket coupons on the new interlined segments.

            In your case, I suppose the Delta local desk at the airport decided to endorse their OWN ticket over to UA. All they need to do is to reissue new tickets with UA coupons.

            Does this make sense?

      2. Stupid of me to have made the error of scanning, not reading the full article. Correct response, wrong column. I guess that’s how Southwest made their error.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: