This post is co-authored by Southwest Senior Business Consultant Bill Owen and Southwest Communications Specialist Sandy Nelson.
What happens when you assemble a group of Southwest Airlines Employees in our nation’s capital to learn how to engage our elected officials on issues important to SWA? The answer is … something wonderful!
Earlier this month, we and 25 other Southwest Employees from across the system gathered in Washington, D.C. to participate in our annual grassroots training program, Days on the Hill. This program is unique within the airline industry in that Southwest trusts the trained Key Contacts to build relationships as constituent advocates with our legislators and to speak to them on issues identified as important to our airline. It was a rewarding and eye-opening experience that really brought home the meaning and significance of the words “We, the People.”
Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis
Dorothy, David, and Jose Luis from D.C. Governmental Affairs
Over the course of three days, we heard from not only Southwest Leaders, but also from business leaders who study and engage the federal government, from members of Congress, and even from a former Assistant to President Clinton. They emphasized how the many governmental agencies interact with our elected officials and with the U.S. airline industry. Best of all, for the purpose we had all come to Days on the Hill, they showed us how to use our new advocacy skills to benefit our Company.
Georgia Congressman David Scott with Jerome Ferrell and Chelsea Jones
By the afternoon of Day Three, armed with tons of new information and skills—and more than a little bit of an energy rush—it was time for us to “stand and deliver.” Meetings had been scheduled for each of us to discuss the importance to Southwest of an upcoming bill—H. R.4156—the Transparent Airfares Act of 2014, with our home-district Congressional Representatives and their staff in their offices on Capitol Hill. Passage of this act is very important to Southwest in that carriers would again be free to break out government-imposed taxes fees from our advertised fares. What this means is that when a government fee is increased (as happened on Monday with an increase in TSA Security charges), potential Customers aren’t given the mistaken impression that Southwest has raised its fares.
Texas Congressman Pete Sessions with Meghan Burlager, Sandy Nelson Price, Heather Tolmachoff, and Anabell Odisho
After our appointments, we all compared notes of how our meetings went. It was fascinating how many of us received completely different receptions from our Congressmen and their staff. Some of the Representatives were wonderfully welcoming and engaged (and HUGELY aware of Southwest and the significance of the Wright Amendment lifting on 10/13/14, in addition to the Transparent Airfares Act). One Congressional office even Facebooked and tweeted out a photo of the Southwest Key Contacts’ visit. Other offices were not as enthusiastic. Still others were either out of town or unable to meet, so the Key Contact met with their Congressional staffers. As we had learned, however, building relationships with Congressional staffers is equally important, as they’re often the news feed behind the elected official. It didn’t take us long to understand that, with repetition, perseverance, and some good ol’ SWA Warrior Spirit—they’re going to know our names and our needs!
Texas Congressman Marc Veasey with Bill Owen
Now, just to be clear, the Key Contacts program doesn’t replace any of the work done by our colleagues in other departments tasked specifically with dealing with local, state, and federal government groups. It supplements it. Those efforts that are often necessary for Southwest’s business growth are brought on as part of a collaboration of Teams throughout the Company. For example, you all remember the “Calling All Warriors” efforts for issues like Wright Amendment, Free Hobby, and the new Washington/Reagan National service awards to Austin, Houston/Hobby, and Kansas City.
Set in the city that seems to literally crackle with energy and power, our Key Contact training lit a spark within each of us to become more engaged, more educated on the issues, and more willing to do something with that knowledge.
2014 Key Contact Class
We think we can speak for the other members of the Key Contact Class of 2014 in summarizing the training with one sentence: Southwest Airlines now has 27 newly informed and empowered Employees ready to combine our rights as Americans to be constituent advocates with our passion for OUR airline, Southwest. Congratulations, fellow classmates—let’s hit the nation RUNNING!