“We don’t recognize your little ‘law enforcement media’ thing here in Chicago,” he said.  “You can complain to your little cop buddies. But in the meantime, I’m the boss and what I say goes.”

Let me start by saying I’m not one who thinks you should judge an entire company by the actions of a few.

Unless, of course, the company culture starts to encourage people to do the wrong thing.

I’ve been a longtime Southwest Airlines customer.  My team flies with the airline weekly. As a matter of fact, just last month I wrote an article about a fallen serviceman being transported on Southwest… and it went viral.

But our recent experiences have me thinking twice… and you might want to as well.  Here’s a broad summary and overview of what happened.

We spent four days in Chicago with Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) last week, interviewing the survivors of officers killed in the line of duty.  We filmed countless sit-downs with incredible men and women talking about post-traumatic stress, the sacrifices of police families and more. It was an emotionally exhausting and yet incredibly inspiring week at their national conference.

We were there filming stories that will launch through this platform, Law Enforcement Today.  To give context, in the month of October, we were blessed to reach more than 50 million people.  We created and use this platform to give a voice to law enforcement and their supporters. 

So I’m pretty sure you can imagine the disgust – and quite frankly the rage – I felt when the Southwest airlines staff in Chicago told us “we don’t recognize ‘law enforcement media’” and refused to honor the airline’s policy of allowing us to check overweight media bags as regular baggage.

It started the moment I walked up to the counter.  There’s no masking my support for law enforcement, especially when I fly.  I was wearing an LE hat and a hoodie designed by Proud Pig, a company run by retired NYPD officers.

Reyes on a Southwest flight

A picture of Kyle S. Reyes flying Southwest airlines.

You could see the immediate look of disgust on the face of the woman at the Southwest counter.

I gave her my license and my business card, showing that I’m the National Spokesman for LET.  I let her know we’d be checking two media bags.

“You is gonna have to pay for them overweight bags,” she told me.

Considering that my team will do 100 flights with Southwest this year – with media bags on every trip – suffice it to say we know a thing or two about their policy.

“They’re media bags, ma’am.  Southwest’s policy is that there’s no overage charge on them.”

She looked at my business card, then looked at my outfit again with disgust.

“Yeah?  What “media” do you think you wit?” she asked.

I gestured to my business card, and told her I’m with Law Enforcement Today.

“That ain’t no media I ever heard of,” she said.  “So you gotta pay.”

At that point I was done messing around.  I asked her to get her supervisor.

A man walked over, also giving my outfit a look of disgust.

“You need to pay for these bags,” he told me. “You don’t have a media pass.”

I explained to him that I typically just travel with my business cards unless we are going to a large event with multiple media outlets.  I told him we’ve never once had a problem.

“Well I don’t know you,” he said.  “For all I know, you makin’ up who you are.”

Given the fact that he was holding my ID and business card, I found that to be humorous.  But I decided to play along.

“Ok, I told him. How about I pull up the website for you? You can see the countless articles from me, my bio on the website, the videos that I’m in across the country or anything else you’re looking for.”

He sneered.

“No media pass, you pay,” he said.

I reminded him that Southwest’s website doesn’t require a formal media pass to check media bags.

Southwest airline policy

Southwest airline policy

“We don’t recognize your little ‘law enforcement media’ thing here in Chicago,” he said.  “You can complain to your little cop buddies. But in the meantime, I’m the boss and what I say goes.”

As you can imagine, I candidly had some choice words for them.  But instead of saying something that would have me removed from the airport, I worked with my employee to move stuff into other bags.

The heaviest of the media bags had been four pounds over.  Four pounds.  These Southwest employees decided to make a debacle and insult the entire law enforcement community over four pounds.

I explained to him before we left that I’d make sure people heard about his comments.

“Yeah, you go ahead and write a little blog about it to your two followers,” he told me.

Game on.

Flights For Wounded Officers

Earlier this year, we reached out to Southwest and told them about the series we have featuring the stories of wounded officers.  We told them all about how these brave men and women are invited to come to our studios in Connecticut to share their stories.  But we also explained the financial difficulties that so many of them have.

A Connecticut bed and breakfast offered their location completely for free to provide a stay to these officers when they’re in town to tell their stories.  We asked Southwest if they’d be interested in partnering to offer some flights to some of them.

Given our massive reach, we thought it would be a win-win.  They told us they weren’t interested.  End of story.  

It’s starting to all make sense now.

Southwest Culture 

The sad truth of it is that I believe that my once-favorite airline is fostering a culture in which the customer is always wrong.  And they’re doing it by teaching employees that it’s ok to lie.

I started noticing it about six months ago for the first time.  Every single flight I was on – EVERY SINGLE FLIGHT – the flight attendants would make an announcement that it was a completely full flight and that you needed to take the first available seat.

Listen – I get it. They want to speed up the boarding process.  I’m totally on board with that.  People are slow as molasses and it drives me nuts.

Did you know that Law Enforcement Today has a private new home for those who support emergency responders and veterans?  It’s called LET Unity, and it’s where we share the untold stories of those patriotic Americans.  Every penny gets reinvested into giving these heroes a voice.  Check it out today.

 

But here’s the rub – not a single one of those flights was completely full.  Each had typically 10 or more unfilled seats.

Trust me, I know because in every case, one of those empty seats was next to me.

That’s by design.  I’m typically flying wearing pro-police or pro-Trump outfits.  Why? Because one of two things happens when I fly like that: either the seat next to me remains open, or I end up sitting next to a friendly.

A little white lie never hurt anyone, right?

It might not seem like a big deal… but as a business owner, I have a hard time believing that training employees to flat out lie to customers is in anyone’s best interest.  When you create a culture where lying is acceptable, you throw your morals and your integrity out the window.

Caught in Another Lie 

Last week, I arrived at Bradley International Airport (my home airport) to fly out and I was shocked to find that Southwest Priority customers were no longer allowed to use the priority line.

It’s worth pointing out that one of the reasons why so many of us who travel frequently strive to earn the “Preferred” status on Southwest is for that exact benefit.  It saves countless hours.

I thought it might be an oversight, and so I reached out to Southwest.  After four or five messages back and forth with them, I finally got them to realize that Bradley has always offered it… that it’s new that they’re no longer doing so.

I got a message back… suggesting Bradley International Airport was in part to blame.

Southwest response

I had a hard time believing that.  So I messaged BDL.

BDL responded quickly, letting us know that Southwest was lying – the decision was “100% on Southwest”.

BDL response on Southwest

Armed with that information, I reached back out to Southwest.  They responded… that BDL was lying.

Southwest response

 

 

BDL response on Southwest

Now I had Southwest blaming TSA.  So I messaged TSA.

Their response?  They let me know that it was 100% on Southwest.

TSA response on Southwest

Why wouldn’t the airline just own it, explain the reason and apologize?  Why is the company creating a culture where they are teaching their employees to flat out lie? 

What starts as encouraging lies… clearly begins to morph into the kind of customer service where employees feel empowered to attack law enforcement and laugh about it.

Challenge Accepted

“Yeah, you go ahead and write a little blog about it to your two followers,” he told me.

Well, I did.  And I have a feeling it’s going to be more than just two followers who read it. 

Perhaps it’s time that Southwest take another look at the culture they’re fostering among the employees that they tout as being some of the friendliest in the skies.


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