Southwest Airlines’ free ukulele gifts have sparked an online backlash
Have you ever wanted to take a ukulele lesson on a plane?
In a way, this is the question that is dividing the Internet this week.
(Side note: Read to the end for information on how to get two free Southwest Airlines tickets.)
On September 16, every passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from Long Beach, California to Honolulu was given a free guitar and a lesson on board. They’ve also been treated to – or may have been exposed to – a short performance by Arizona, a Los Angeles musician and social media influencer.
The airline posted about the flight on its social media platforms Tuesday, and the response was immediate and polarizing.
The posts generated an unusually high response rate according to Alyssa Foster, a Southwest spokeswoman who co-coordinated the promotion. But she said the tone of those responses varied a lot by platform. She said Twitter users were generally less keen on the idea, but the airline’s Instagram fans responded more positively.
Before the pandemic, Southwest was known for its “surprise and cheer” onboard programming, but it was off during the travel downturn. After a few years without them, Foster said, perhaps many social media watchers are learning about the unique corporate culture in the Southwest for the first time.
“This is awareness for you, and it’s something we’ve been using to promote that service from Hawaii to Long Beach,” she said. “If you haven’t been on the boat or haven’t experienced it, it’s out of the ordinary, and that’s kind of the point…it’s something special and unique in the Southwest.”
What goes into planning to give the ukulele on board?
Foster told USA TODAY that any upgrade like this takes a lot of thought, and it’s not just about securing hundreds of tools and cases. The airline and its partners focus on what they want to promote—in this case, a relatively new flight from Long Beach to Honolulu to the Southwest, and the availability of lessons at the Guitar Center.
Planners are also considering the flights that make the most sense to try, if Twitter is to be believed, not everyone will be happy to participate.
“We don’t want to do anything on the 6 a.m. flight,” Foster said. “We’re really thinking about what kind of customer is on board.”
Are people trapped?
Foster acknowledged that the ukulele program benefited from the plane’s PA system, but soon noticed that the whole thing took about 20 minutes in a roughly six-hour flight, and customers were encouraged to put their instruments away when the flight was over.
“There is still time to sit back and relax,” she said. “We planned to make sure it would be an enjoyable experience from the start.”
The three instructors on board were from Guitar Center’s Pearl City store, and Foster said Southwest aims to educate its employees and customers about Hawaiian culture since they began serving the islands.
She also said that the airline’s advanced planning means there are no problems with carry-on baggage that doesn’t have enough space due to extra tools on board.
“Everyone had a great time,” Foster said. “They were already on their way to Hawaii.”
The Guitar Center also offered to ship guitars back to passenger homes for free.
Can I get a free guitar?
Can! Southwest is expanding sweepstakes promotion. The winner will receive two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the airline’s network, and two guitars to boot.
All you have to do is enter your information here.