This is a topic matter we’ve been curious to research further for a few years now. If you try to reach southwest.com from outside the USA or one of the few destinations they fly outside the USA you will be presented with the following error message.
I’ve got a few issues with this, let’s start with the most basic one. This is horrible customer messaging, especially for a company which prides itself on customer service. There is just no need to display an error that makes the user think they have done something wrong. You can find many a post online of people being told to contact their ISP to see why they are blocking access, or to contact Southwest and report their website is down.
Here’s the thing, I do happen to think Southwest has generally great customer service and customer friendly travel policies compared to the other US airlines. This is something that would take someone very little time to pretty up and display a customer friendly message informing them they cannot book Southwest from their current location by design. Followed by a proper message on how to contact them via other means such as telephone or social media. This would also be a great place to list any disclaimers such as they can only sell tickets to people with a US credit card billing address or other qualifications.
Instead, if you inform Southwest customer service you cannot reach their site from overseas, over the past couple of years you will get some variation of this friendly reply.
This doesn’t do anything but compound the problem as it implies they are having an error and it will be fixed. You can check an hour, day or month later without success as it is by design with no current plans to fix it as stated.
If you happen to be traveling outside of the US or one of the few nearby countries Southwest flies to and need a connecting flight home on Southwest you are a bit stranded. The same applies if you booked a flight prior to leaving the country and would like to check out official flight status or check in for a flight on the Southwest website. Like a lot of US airlines you can also be hard pressed to even find a non toll-free number to actually call them from outside the US.
Southwest does not allow third party travel sites to sell their tickets so that is not a viable alternative. If you have a US based VPN you can utilize this as a workaround, but that is outside the scope of this article.
We reached out to Southwest for an official comment, and are happy to report they did respond very promptly and we have included their entire official statement below.
“Southwest proudly operates a network of 100 destinations in the United States and ten additional countries. Customers in the countries which we serve have full access to our website for booking tickets and checking fares.
As you might know, Southwest Airlines has been profitable over the past four decades by being strategically focused on keeping our costs low which allows us to offer low fares to our customers. To help maintain our legendary cost control and efficiency, we have evaluated the number of tickets we actually sell in countries that we do not serve against the cost of maintaining security controls and full website access in those areas. We are always looking for ways to offer our unique brand of Southwest Hospitality to customers. As we add service to additional countries, we will open our website to more areas around the globe.
If individuals need to book a ticket on Southwest and do not have access to our website, we invite them to contact our dedicated team of customer service professionals via our social media channels for assistance.”
While we can fully appreciate the potential customer service issues of trying to sell to foreign customers, these are very solvable problems as we mentioned earlier. They can be addressed with good customer-focused messaging, people who know Southwest already know their desire to drive down costs and improve efficiency. Those that don’t can nicely be informed they cannot currently buy without a US credit card.
I don’t want to let this provided reasoning be accepted so passively however. Working with a merchant provider that can properly handle accepting foreign cards, and process cards with enhanced 3D secure from Europe and other regionalized needs is no longer rocket science and can be handled much easier now than in years past. You do not need localized language or servers deployed in new locales to serve these customers.
Perhaps it’s time for Southwest to revisit this customer unfriendly policy, and if nothing else at least communicate with customers by displaying their own informative messaging versus maddening error messages that drive their customers into thinking something is wrong.