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Getting your Plane Turned Around On Time

The key to success for Southwest Airline is how quickly they can turn out a plane from the time it lands to the time it takes off again.

The saying “Time is money” isn’t lost to these folks. But, the task of creating such efficiency should be of great interest to anyone running a business.


Consider the people involved in that task and the team development required. The guys with the flashlights need to guide the plane to the gate. Someone has to fuel the plane. Someone else brings the gangway down to the plane’s door. Flight attendants help everyone off the plane while they clean the seats and floor for the next group. Others service the restrooms. People load on more fuel. Still others check the plane for problems. Gate agents check people in, get them lined up and loaded. All of this happens in 30 minutes or so, hour after hour, day after day in airports all over the US.


How in the world does Southwest do such a great job of getting all of those people to work together so effectively?

  1. They hire for fit. It is no secret that Southwest selectively hires people who are friendly and have a good attitude.


  1. They inspire. I was told that when our great country was attacked on 9/11, the leaders of Southwest told every employee that their jobs were secure. Imagine that! This was a time of great uncertainty. No one knew when aircraft would again be allowed into the air. Even greater was the concern that no one would board another airplane out of fear for their lives. But, the company had a strong balance sheet and it took a strong stand for their employees.


Loyalty like that is rewarded in kind. Southwest employees are very loyal to their company. You don’t hear them moan and complain about it. Instead, they radiate a commitment to the company and to their shared values of being friendly, happy and helpful.


  1. They recognize people for the right things. Read the Southwest magazine in the seatback pocket. In every issue one or two employees are singled out and their stories are told. It is not the Executive Team who are highlighted. It is the baggage guy or the person who fuels the plane. These are ordinary people but you wouldn’t think that from their stories. They take pride in their work. They connect the dots between their task and the big idea of getting the planes turned around quickly. They work to make that happen while having the “Southwest” attitude of love.


This is the work I like to do the most; helping companies motivate their employees to show up every day with their best self, to like what they do, to believe in the company for which they work. Every company should be filled with such folks. And, people feel best about themselves when they are working in this way.


About Jack Skeen

Jack Skeen
Jack Skeen, founder of Skeen Leadership, has been coaching bright and successful leaders for close to two decades, spending thousands of hours addressing every imaginable leadership, business and life issue with wisdom and professionalism.

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