Author - Lecturer - Strategic Communications Adviser

What We Can Learn From Southwest Airlines’ Recent PR Crisis

Jan. 3, 2023

By Jennifer R. Farmer

Many of us watched with a mix of horror, outrage and sadness as Southwest Airlines completely melted down of over the holiday season. The airline reportedly canceled over 13,000 flights beginning on Dec. 22. What started as a shock quickly erupted into a traveling nightmare for Southwest customers and a massive public relations crisis for the company.

For those of us in public relations, particularly crisis management, this experience provides a learning opportunity. For years, insiders claimed that Southwest relied on outdated crew-scheduling software and/or aging technology. In other words, there were signs that the company’s systems needed updating. The question becomes: “What did the company do with that information?”

While a crisis can strike out of the blue, often there are red flags indicating something is amiss. Sometimes leaders fail to act because they do not take threats seriously. Other times, they underestimate the threat or believe there is time to address it. I’m not sure what happened with Southwest Airlines. And to be honest, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you are doing in your business or life to prevent a crisis before it begins.

To be clear, a crisis is any event that threatens to disrupt your ability to fulfill your mission. Rather than focusing on the mission, you are focusing on the problem. It is anything that compromises the trust and loyalty you’ve established with customers and clients. And yes, this includes employees.

It is easy to focus on Southwest Airlines because the company has recently been in the media. But examples are only useful if they inspire us to operate differently. In this moment, we should be assessing our own organizations and looking for warning signs that a challenge is brewing.

Often before a situation spills out into public view, there are internal warnings that things are amiss. There are people who highlight a challenge and share feedback that, if implemented promptly, could help avert a massive problem down the line. News reports indicate that pilots, industry insiders and others had warned Southwest Airlines of crumbling infrastructure and aging systems. It doesn’t appear that the company heeded those early warning signs, and when the bow broke, it really broke. Southwest Airlines is instructive for those of us who still have an opportunity to enact change.

What is happening within your organization or life that you know you should address? What feedback have you heard from customers, including employees? When was the last time you conducted an internal survey to gauge the culture and feelings about your organization?

What is the thing that, if it became public, could disrupt your ability to fulfill the organizational or professional mission? What feedback have you received that you have brushed aside as insignificant or as something to address later?

As you ponder those questions, be careful not to do so in isolation. Do so with trusted partners and colleagues. Encourage them to be brutally honest, and challenge yourself to hear without defending. It is in honest conversations such as those that you can spot, address and avert a crisis.

Ask yourself: “What actions can I take today that could benefit my future company or self?” Don’t wait until you have the glare of angry customers to make a change. Start now.




Blog Posts

Journalism and Public Relations: What’s the Difference?,

By Jennifer R. Farmer Earlier this week, leaked video appeared to show Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White striking his wife at a New Year’s Eve party. While the clip surfaced on social media, mainstream media coverage of the incident has been sparse. What’s more, according to


By Jennifer Farmer Date - January 10, 2023

Quick. What You Do Now Matters.,

By Jennifer R. Farmer For years, the media has been in a free fall. We’ve seen newsrooms consolidate departments and functions, shed positions, and cease operations. This trend has continued through 2022, as CNN recently announced layoffs impacting 400 of its 4,400 workforces. Gannett, which ow


By Jennifer Farmer Date - December 3, 2022

Upcoming Events

May 9, 2023
  • Career Day Speech at Heritage Middle School May 9, 2023  8:45 am - 9:45 am Westerville, OH, USA
    See more details
July 14, 2023
July 15, 2023
July 16, 2023

"I have decided to show up fully and authentically. I trust you will do the same. May you find what you need in one of these books."Jennifer R. FarmerExtraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Step-by-Step Guide. Order now from Berrett Koehler or your favorite book seller.   First and Only" was published by Broadleaf Books in February 2021. Order your copy at BroadLeaf Books or your favorite bookseller.


Jennifer R. Farmer is an author, trainer and small-business owner. She is the host of the award-winning United Methodist Women “Faith Talks” podcast, which offers spiritual growth content for women of faith. Farmer is also the author of “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life” (Broadleaf Books) and “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide” (Berrett-Koehler Publishers). She is the founder of Spotlight PR LLC, a boutique firm specializing in communications strategy for leaders and groups committed to social and racial justice. She is also the founder of the Center for Social Justice Leadership, which exists to support leaders and organizations in creating more inclusive workplace cultures. Farmer has provided services to national organizations and celebrities committed to addressing the climate crisis, as well as social and racial injustice.

- Read More -

Testimonials and Endorsements

Jennifer Farmer is one of the smartest and most talented communicators I know. She’s passionate, knowledgeable and relatable about her work. Plus, when we spent time together, she made sure I never ate alone.

Ari Berman, Contributing WriterThe Nation

When we worked together in the Forward Together Moral Monday movement, Jennifer Farmer skillfully heard me. She allowed me to be myself, while teaching me and the NC NAACP staff foundational communications techniques.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, Founder, Repairers of the BreachThe North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP,The Forward Together Moral Movement

I loved this book. It is smart, practical and filled with personal examples that underscore the author’s central message: there are concrete things you can do to promote your organization with or without a large budget. Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget is required reading for anyone wishing to use strategic communications to make a difference.

Celinda Lake, PrincipalLake Research Partners

I sincerely appreciate your work and having you as a team member. You have helped me grow and sharpen my focus for this journey. Thank you. Love and Respect.

Michael Render, pka Killer Mike, Activist, Rapper and Businessman

“Jennifer Farmer is an insightful listener and observer of human interaction. She uses her insights to speak directly to the core issues impacting leadership. Her analysis perceptively integrates gender, race, religion, and overall worldview to offer more nuanced understandings of leadership than the one-size-fits-all approaches more commonly promoted.”

Rev. Dr. Cari Jackson, author, clergy in residence, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice