Southwest Airlines has a controversial new idea to make customers sing a different tune

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Airlines say they exist to transport you, pamper you and, yes, love you. And I exist to tell you that this is not entirely true.

These days, in fact, airlines exist to make money for top executives, and well, maybe pilots, as well as shareholders. And the way they do it is by giving you as little as possible.

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Occasionally, of course, they try to do something good. Who can’t be carried around by companies like American Airlines and United suddenly finding technological ways for parents to sit with their kids without paying extra?

And now another airline is experimenting with something so passenger-friendly I can hardly look away. Or cover my ears. You see, Southwest Airlines doesn’t rest on its laurels. You might notice that after his Christmas debacle, he doesn’t have a sheet to rest on.

But the airline is forging ahead, using its ingenuity to get you there a little faster. In fact, Southwest is running experiments that can boggle your mind and turn your ears into vessels of disbelief.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, the airline is wowing passengers at the busy Atlanta airport with clever touches. Passengers know that these touches are clever because there is a big sign that says: “Innovation Zone”.

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Your imagination is already running wild, I think. Is Southwest making its seats five inches wider? Is the airline giving out free ice cream on every trip? Is Southwest making sure your Wi-Fi is working?

Oh, it’s not exactly any of those things.

For starters, there are signs explaining the airline’s seating policy: first come, first served. Pretty innovative, that. Then there are video monitors that display important information, dynamically presented.

There’s even “a roaming employee with a mobile device [who] it also checks oversized bags or registers pets long before boarding begins.” But this all sounds pretty mundane. That’s because I’ve been saving the big one for the next sentence.

Southwest is going to play loud music as you slowly wobble across the reaction bridge. There, wasn’t that worth waiting for? Music blares in your ears as you stand there, wondering why the line to get on the plane isn’t moving faster.

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Wait, what is this music supposed to do? Well, Southwest’s research shows that when you play fast-tempo music for people, they move faster.

To get away from music, perhaps?

Don’t know. But the airline has three music scenes: EDM, hip hop and what The Wall Street Journal describes as “children’s music.” Which is probably something from the ’70s. Or the Dumbo theme song, I guess. Everything is reproduced on portable speakers, one of the great inventions of technology.

Remember that while it may seem like Southwest is playing to your psyche, this is all being done for your benefit. If the plane turns faster, you’ll leave faster, and Southwest will suddenly regain a reputation for being vivacious, which means you’ll love Southwest again.

However, there is another aspect. If Southwest can turn its planes around faster, it can fly them more often and make more money.

But that’s just a side benefit, you know?

Southwest wants to make you happy by appealing to your dancing feet and very sensitive ears.

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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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