Viral marketing campaigns. They’re…something, aren’t they? Some people find them cringe-worthy, others irresistible. But they’re always surprising and certainly bring attention to a brand like nothing else.
Southwest Airlines has never been one for shying away from such things. The airline has always been beloved for their blue-collar, laid-back style. But their latest stunt, the announcement of an expansion of what they somehow claim to be a wildly popular in-flight concert series called “Live At 35”, in which live bands perform inflight for an unsuspecting group of passengers (let me repeat – fliers are completely unprepared for this), has hit the wrong key with many. At first I just thought I was being the curmudgeonly, bitter old flight attendant when every muscle in my body tensed up as I read about it, but reactions from the majority of the public seem to echo the same sentiment.
I wish the marketing departments of airlines would at least consult the flight attendants for some insight as to how things like this might go down with passengers, since we are the ones who hear from them directly what they want and, most importantly, don’t want. Years ago, at my own airline, I ineffectively tried to steer a much less offensive stunt to go off a more practically. It was merely that the marketing department had tchotchkes to give away, and my crew and I wanted to give them away during the flight, just prior to descent, as this would give them time to ask questions about the program being promoted and also simply to have time to put the goodies into their carry on bags. The idea was politely rebuffed as the team wanted to connect personally with the passengers after the flight, and they instead stood in the jetbridge on arrival trying to hand things to now completely uninterested people who nearly knocked them down as they ran off the plane.
Now obviously a T-shirt and pen giveaway is not even on the same planet as an in-flight ear assault, but I can’t imagine there have been any flight attendants who would been pumped on the idea. Besides the obvious point, being that passengers (and crew) will be held captive by “Live At 35” and subject to an unavoidable music set whether they like it or not, what about the practical issues – how will the flight attendants provide service? What if there’s a medical emergency, and they aren’t able to hear a call button ringing or someone calling for help? Will the pilots have to interrupt the set to use the lavatory, since the front of the cabin will have to be secured for them to leave the cockpit? (“So this next one’s called – oh, what’s that? Okay, sorry guys, Captain Dirk’s had a little too much coffee, be back in a few.”)
And what if you bought a ticket because you’re going to the funeral of a beloved family member? Or you’re a new mom who has not slept all night and looked forward to taking a quick nap onboard? Better yet – imagine having a baby with you that has finally fallen asleep and now there’s suddenly an airplane band jangling away a rousing bluegrass cover of Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven”? I would love to know the statistics on how many assaults take place on these flights.
I do applaud Southwest for being innovative. Not enough airlines are. But unless Gwar will be performing in full heavy metal regalia shooting fake blood on everyone en route to Des Moines, I think Southwest ought to ground this idea before it ever takes off.