A 47-year-old customer-service representative for Southwest Airlines says it's been a challenge.
They've worked there since 2008 and the airline pays them $30 an hour.
This is what it's been like with delays and cancellations, as told to writer Katherine Stinson.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a 47-year-old customer-service representative who works at Southwest Airlines. They asked to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, but Insider has verified their identity and employment with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
"American Idol" inspired me to apply for a customer-service-representative job at Southwest Airlines back in 2008.
My friend always bragged — as mothers do — about her son being a contestant on the show. She became a frequent flyer to support her son and other children, who encouraged her to get a job of her own. So one day she told me: "If I'm going to work for a company, it's going to be Southwest."
That was all the inspiration I needed at the time. The company initially hired me to work as a customer-service representative for one of Southwest's call centers. I gained experience fielding customer calls and concerns without ever seeing their faces.
However, I found working at the airport truly fulfilling — the call center overwhelmed me after six years. I decided to apply at the San Antonio International Airport. I would lose the seniority I'd earned working at the San Antonio call center, but to me, it was the right choice. After going through another interview, the airport hired me in 2015.
The thing about Southwest Airline employees, or at least the ones I work with, is their dedication. If you ever fly into the San Antonio International Airport, the employees you interact with have likely been there for years. The turnover rate is, typically, quite low. The company pays me $30 an hour, a benefit of my dedication to Southwest.
It's been challenging for us seasoned employees lately
It's a universal truth that nobody wants an airline to delay their flight, or heaven forbid, cancel it outright.
Recently, a man and his family — the group looked to have around 13 people in total — arrived far too late to check in for their 8 a.m. flight. The man was not happy when we informed him that it was too late for us to check in his party; we have a policy to abide by.
He got hysterical and angry. As a result, we had to bring over a police officer and their dog. It's almost like a scare tactic because we don't know what these people are going to do in these types of situations; it was frightening because he was slamming his hand on the table. We told him, "You need to calm down as soon as possible, sir."
But I do want to help. I was working down in baggage claim — every shift we rotate to different stations at the airport — during the last-minute summer trips before people started coming back to school this past weekend. Because of the seemingly endless delays, we had to reroute scores of luggage. I'm not even sure if the elderly customer I helped whose luggage left without him got his belongings back. All of his valuables were in there, but he was one of around 30 people in line that day alone that were understandably upset about their lost luggage.
We have to stick to the rules, even when it isn't convenient for anyone involved
Flyers really don't understand that the airlines can delay their flights, which means that they should think of backup options the day before.
This past weekend alone felt like a lifetime of shifts. We had delays galore. One customer I interacted with missed their wedding rehearsal when their airline canceled the day's last flight to Las Vegas. I can't tell you how many customers didn't wait for us to accommodate them. They told us, often angrily, to cancel their flights so they could rebook with airlines that had options they needed at the moment. We do try to rebook customers to the next available flight when we're able to, but when it's the last Southwest flight of the night, all we can do is rebook them for a flight the next day.
Another thing we can do for customers in the event of a mechanical-related delay or cancellation is give them a $200 voucher and book a hotel for them that night if they aren't from San Antonio. However, we can't do this if the issue is nonmechanical, like if there's an unexpected weather delay.
My advice for anyone flying is to always have a backup plan to alleviate the stress of delayed or canceled flights
Of course, we'll always try to rebook you or get you on the next-best possible flight, but flyers never have a Plan B in case of emergency.
My go-to suggestion for customers at the San Antonio Airport is to utilize the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. It's only about an hour-and-15-minute drive from the San Antonio Airport.
As stressful as angry flyers are, the one flyer who truly got to me was a lady who simply said, "I would hate to have your job." I didn't say anything; I just looked at her. She left me momentarily speechless.
It's very difficult, especially at 4 in the morning, to wake up at 2 a.m. — I do typically prefer working earlier in the morning, and I'm grateful my job has different shift times for flexibility — and have somebody tell you something like that.
It's like a stab in the back. Yes, I'm here to make money and everything, but we're truly here to make you happy, too. Ultimately, all I could say to her was, "Have a good day, ma'am."
I just want flyers to remember we're human, too
It's usually easier working at the check-in counter because you're only with customers for a few minutes before they head to security. Any issue from that point forward is something the customer-service representatives at the gates handle.
When you work at the gates, you're the one stuck with the onslaught of angry customers if an airline delays or cancels a flight. We get assigned a different station every day so no employee is in a certain spot all the time.
All I want customers to remember is that we're not robots; we're regular people. Even the pilots deal with knee problems after sitting in a confined space for hours on their flights.
We see a lot of cancellations throughout the day. I'd say 50% of our customers are understanding, and 50% aren't. The 50% that are understanding totally agree with us regarding our lack of control over cancellations and delays, and actually feel sorry for us.
The thing is, I don't want people to feel sorry for us, exactly. I just want them to understand.
What if your daughter was in our shoes? Would you treat them that way? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn't, but we're just human beings.
I do find fulfilment helping those in need
I'm not the best Spanish speaker, but I practice my Spanish every day. So it does make me happy when we're able to get foreign passengers to their destination. I make it a point to be extra nice to them because some people aren't, because of global politics.
It reminds me that we're here for a purpose, and our purpose is to help. I get a lot of happiness from helping customers that have no idea what they're doing. I love it.
I try to make the best of my day because I'm the one who provides health insurance for me and my husband, and I want to make sure we're taken care of because at any moment, we can get sick. That's the No. 1 reason why I go to work every day.
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