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Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell, or Bad Policy Practices

A quick missive on airlines and the lies they tell... these are generally half-lies, but lies nonetheless... of all the airlines, Southwest seems to be the most notorious (I've flown 4 airlines in the past 2 wks and their lies have been most egregious). The main source of most of their lies is in false assertions about "FAA regulations." They attribute many of their rules to FAA regulations, but the simple fact is that the rules they are enforcing are their own. However, saying "follow our rules because we said so" sounds far less intimidating and authoritative than "follow the rules because the FAA says so."

Having read through FAA rules previously on a few areas, what I noticed is this: the FAA says that airlines have to set rules regarding various situations, behaviors, and processes. For instance, airlines must have rules around passenger age and age verification. Enforcing their own rules is an FAA requirement, and failing to follow their own rules is, in fact, an FAA violation. However, to say that the rules themselves are from the FAA is a fabrication.

One of my favorite post-9/11 assertions by airlines like Southwest pertains to standing in the forward cabin near the lav. Most airlines have a line near the front row of seats that you can stand behind to wait for the lav to clear. Southwest, however, says that if the forward lav is occupied, then you cannot stand near the front "due to FAA regulations." This is, of course, a convenient fabrication. Southwest is, in fact, the only airline I've flown where this practice is in place.

I think what perhaps makes me most irritated about Southwest's enforcement of these rules is the manner in which they do it. For example, unlike the other airlines, Southwest demands proof of age for *all* children flying "in lap," not just those that look suspiciously close to 2 years of age. Over Christmas 2009 we were threatened with denied access to our flight in both directions because we didn't bring my daughter's birth certificate (she was about 16 mos at the time). The way in this was communicated to us was openly hostile and insulting. They even went so far as to tell us that we would be subject to a $10,000 fine from the FAA if we were "discovered." I later researched this matter and found that, no, in fact, we would not be subject to an FAA fine, but Southwest could for not following their own policy.

Ultimately, these practices by Southwest demonstrate a major failing in their security policies. Undoubtedly, some ignoramus is sitting in an office somewhere writing stringent policies based on fictional scenarios that simply are not realistic. They've then communicated these rules in a FUD-filled manner that is designed to threat and intimidate customers, and likely also employees. "Do our bidding, or you will be crucified for your failure to comply." Whatever. Your policies suck, make no sense, make your company look bad, and subsequently make your employees look ignorant and angry (if not jaded and disillusioned).

How often do we see this in the average enterprise environment? Does your company have policies that are draconian or just plain wrong? Are they enforced? If no, why are they still on the books? If yes, how are they enforced or communicated? What tone is set? It's one thing to have regulatory requirements (in earnest) that must be enforced, but it's another thing entirely to have a broad mandate to enforce your policies "or else" and then turn that into a pseudo-authoritative statement about what the government requires. Oh, and be careful what you wish for...


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 21, 2010 8:31 AM.

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