Southwest Airlines in “final stages” of implementing system that allows e-mail contact

Southwest Airlines, the only major domestic carrier that doesn’t accept customer feedback by e-mail, says it’s on the verge of allowing passengers to send it questions and comments electronically. Until now, the airline has preferred contact with its customers by phone or postal letter, saying it does “not currently have the resources to accept customer e-mail.”

However, executives contacted online have been known to respond to customers informally.

“We’re in the final stages of being able to launch accepting customer e-mail,” says spokeswoman Linda Rutherford. “That won’t replace writing us, for now, so customers will have a choice under the ‘contact us’ portion of southwest.com to write us a letter, send us an e-mail, or give us a phone call to discuss a customer service issue.”

The launch, which is expected to happen “in the next several weeks,” comes as Southwest begins testing wireless Internet service on some flights. It also follows United Airlines’ reported announcement to limit customers with a comment or complaint to e-mail instead of being able to contact it by phone. (United has described the move as a reallocation of customer service resources rather than a shift in the way it handles customer comments.)

Rutherford says Southwest won’t flip the switch on an e-mail system overnight.

“We’re soft-launching the capability in order to test our processes and work out the bugs, before we push the channel more aggressively,” she says. “In typical Southwest style, we want to underpromise and overdeliver.”