THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Southwest

The flight attendant asked if anybody had change for a twenty.

You're supposed to avoid Southwest Airlines like the plague. It's a flying bus. You can't reserve a seat without paying extra. It's a madhouse. So why did I exit the plane with a smile on my face?

Maybe it was the ticket taker wearing shorts. This wasn't about appearances, but efficiency. In the uber-hot San Fernando Valley why wear long pants and a tie to load a plane? The official exuded a summer camp vibe, like we were all off an adventure, that we weren't being squeezed into a tiny tube to be shot through the air at six hundred miles an hour to our destination.

Not being Southwest regulars, we forgot to check in online. Which left us in the last boarding group, C. The thought of slipping through my fellow passengers for my inevitable center seat horrified me. Did I enter the aircraft through the front or the back?


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

Yes, this may have been a feature of Burbank's Bob Hope Airport, which is sans jetways, but I don't ever remember getting a choice. We decided to go with the front. Because of the smoother ride. Then again, if Ronnie Van Zant had ridden in the back, he'd be taking the stage to sing "Sweet Home Alabama" with Kid Rock today.

I was stunned to find space in the overhead bin. A completely empty one, in fact. Since Southwest doesn't insult you by charging for baggage, people were not saving the fifteen bucks by taking their worldly belongings on the plane. It's getting to be like a third world country on most airlines these days. I soon expect to be flying with chickens in the overhead compartments.

My instincts were correct, only center seats were available. But, when I slipped in I was ensconced in leather, my body was fully gripped, I didn't have that dreaded space behind my lower back filled solely with air. And, after plopping down I noticed how easy it was… There was LEGROOM! About as much as I paid extra for just days before on United's Economy Express. Which you can't upgrade to with miles. They say they're going to cancel my mileage account for lack of use, BUT THEY WON'T LET ME USE IT!

And the flight attendant and the pilot are convivial. They exude the same summer camp vibe as the ticket taker. Sure, we're packed in like sardines. But rather than jockeying for position and complaining, why don't we all put a smile on our face and endure the trip, try to have some fun.

Even though the flight was only forty eight minutes long, we got a
drink. And peanuts. I'm in love with any airline that serves nuts.
Not worried about lawsuits from the few allergic citizens too stupid to read the packaging. I'm sick of getting the dreaded pretzels in coach. Enough with the carbohydrates, isn't this what's making America fatter? How about PROTEIN!

And the flight attendant told us not to congregate at the front toilet. I usually get up during every flight to pee, but I didn't want to disappoint her, I didn't want to get on the bad side of my counselor.

And when she came through the plane to pick up detritus, she gave me the previously picked up "New York Times" and "Wall Street Journal"
with a smile. Instead of giving me that frown and Freddie Prinze "it's not my job" look. We were in it together. So, when she asked if anybody had change for a twenty, I thought of the bills in my wallet, I wanted to help her out. Whereas normally, I'd say screw you.

Not that the problem is with the flight attendants themselves so much as their working conditions. They've been downsized, beaten and broken by the fat cat executives to such a degree that they're taking it out on the passengers. Yet, on Southwest, there's a different attitude. There's a united front. Maybe it's the employee ownership program. Not only the fat cats are getting rich.

Maybe it's the brilliance of the fat cats themselves. Who realized flying only one type of aircraft would benefit their bottom line.

You can worry solely about the bottom line. You can disrespect your clientele. But it's not that difficult to turn it around.

This is the opposite of the music industry. Where everybody from label to promoter to act is bitching. About theft, oil prices and overhead costs. They say their hands are tied, they must make deals with the Fortune 500, they must cross-promote. But I don't see ads for Bud on Southwest.

The fan has overpaid for crap music and laid out beaucoup bucks for concert tickets for way too long. The consumer is not on the industry's team. And that's the companies' biggest problem. Your consumer will bend, even put up with some inconvenience if he is dealt with honestly, gets all the information he needs with a smile.

While the old wave airlines are ailing, merging into one, Southwest is profitable. It's not difficult to see why.

Meanwhile, over at Budget Rent A Car it's impossible to decipher the price. And the add-ons make the transaction even more complicated than BUYING a used car. And the lingo… Do you want COMPLETE coverage? They don't even say INSURANCE coverage. The uninitiated would have no idea what they're talking about. No, I want incomplete coverage, I want to take a BIG RISK!

But the coverage they're trying to sell most people already have, with their credit card and/or home car insurance.

And the car you get is not the one you reserved. If you're worried about gas prices and rent a Taurus (known as full-size in car rental lingo), you get a Marquis (which must be known as GARGANTUAN in their
literature!)

Budget Rent A Car doesn't care about me. Its employees are no different from boiler room salesmen, looking to skim a buck from a rube so they can keep their boss happy and retain their job. There's no service with a smile, there are just endless lines and harried employees.

Sometimes it's not so complicated. Sometimes it's less about technology than about immutable rules that have existed since the dawn of time. You've got to instill pride in your employees, you've got to make them feel like they're part of the team. After all, how often does the overpaid CEO even SEE a consumer?

And, without a customer, a business is history. Customers must be treated like gold. If you're doing it otherwise, you've got it all wrong.

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