Southwest manager always on go behind the scenes

Ask Danielle Reidder about her brief career in reality TV a few years ago and she will quickly turn to another subject.

“I tried to get away from that,” said Reidder, the assistant station leader for Southwest Airlines at McCarran International Airport. “It was really about others. Some people like the limelight. Some don’t.”

She made a couple of cameo appearances on “Airline,” a series that chronicled some of the triumphs, disappointments and oddities of how Southwest handled customers at different airports. When it was filmed, she was stationed at Los Angeles International Airport working in customer service.

Since moving up the management ranks and to Las Vegas, she performs her job behind the scenes from a window-
less office behind the wall at the Southwest ticket counter. Union work rules preclude her from dealing with customers directly or lending a hand to move baggage faster, even though she has background in both.

But to Southwest’s 726 ground operations employees here plus others at the airport, she keeps a high profile. During the course of a day she may do everything from attending meetings among the different airline managers at McCarran to grilling hot dogs and hamburgers on the tarmac as an employee morale booster. Perhaps a fourth of her time is spent her desk in an office overflowing with Southwest memorabilia and certificates from completing management training courses.

The rest of her day is spent roaming the airport to wherever she is needed to ensure that line workers see the presence of management and to unclog any bottlenecks that may develop.

The results can create lasting memories, good or bad, of how visitors view Las Vegas. During the first six months this year, Southwest carried 7.7 million passengers, 39 percent of the total that passed through McCarran and nearly quadruple second-place Delta.

While Reidder did not grow up dreaming of wings and luggage carousels, she now thinks of herself as a lifer.

Question: What’s your favorite wake-up call in the morning, the smell of coffee or the smell of jet fuel?

Answer: Probably jet fuel. This place gets into your blood. I love it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything different.

Our people, our culture — this
company just takes care of its people and its the thing that separates us from everywhere else. You want to own it and be a part of the success.

Question: How did you get into the business?

Answer: I never had a desire to go into airlines. I was going to school for hospital management at American River College in Sacramento. My brother got diagnosed with cancer, so I was driving from Sacramento to L.A. every weekend to be with my family and my parents wouldn’t let me drop out of school. A girl I played soccer with at American River said I should get hired by Southwest Airlines so I could fly for free. After I hit one too many tule fogs driving between Sacramento and L.A., I said I couldn’t do this any more. So I went in to Southwest and got hired and I never looked back. My brother is doing great.

Question: If you were told to write your own job description, what would it include?

Answer: I am responsible for the safety and security of our employees here in Las Vegas, driving our performance and taking care of our customers to make sure we are the hometown carrier and airline of choice.

I would say probably 20 percent of the day I am in my chair, some days more. I am here to support our employees and make sure that they get tools they need to do their jobs. If I can win the hearts and minds of our employes, I know they will take care of our customers.

Question: At some companies, a visible supervisor is the last thing anybody wants. Why is your visibility good?

Answer: I feel that our employees want to see us. They want to talk with me. They want to know I am here and support them. Actions speak louder than words, so we have to support them. My role is to let them know that I know what they are going through, that I know what they deal with on a day-to-day basis. If there is a reason why you are not getting the things you need to do your job better, how can I help you? It’s very hard to lead people if you don’t know what they do.

Question: How do you take care of customers who won’t be satisfied no matter what?

Answer: We’re in customer service industry and we just happen to fly airplanes. Even if we have no fault, to apologize is not an admission of guilt but of empathy. So you listen to that customer and you try to accommodate them to the best of your ability. And that’s what we do. But safety and security are our number one priorities. It’s not just about that one person but all the other people on the plane and the crew of five.

Question: What’s a good day for you?

Answer: Coming into work, dropping my stuff in my office and immediately hitting the floor running on my morning rounds. I love the interaction that I am fortunate enough to have with all our employees. It’s the coolest thing.

Question: What a bad day for you?

Answer: December 17, 2008, when we had that snowstorm. The airport is not equipped with snow removal equipment, and it shut us down. I was here 36 hours straight. When we got that phone call we could start operations, it was a big relief.

Question: You have worked in seven different cities. How does Las Vegas match up with them?

Answer: You see it all here, you deal with it all. It is wild, there is no other way to say it. On a Sunday, our capacity is full with a 96 percent load factor and our customers either had a really fantastic weekend or a really rough weekend. They’re coming from pools, they’re coming from casinos. It’s different then working in a city like Los Angeles. This is a very leisure community here in Las Vegas. The business traveler is not our dominant traveler. Our dominant traveler is that vacation customer that we need to hit hard with customer service because we want them to think about us next year when the come back to Las Vegas.

Question: How is it different to deal with a road warrior versus a leisure traveler.

Answer: We have a high-touch and low-touch customers. This is a high-touch airport, but Las Vegas is high touch as a city. Las Vegas is a customer service-oriented city.

Question: Your job history would suggest you’re just about ready to go somewhere else. Are you?

Answer: That’s funny because it gets brought up a lot. And I have been asked to entertain some other cities in our Southwest system, but currently I am happy here. I love Las Vegas, I love this community. I love our employees here in the Las Vegas station.

Question: But a few years out, where do you see yourself going?

Answer: Ultimately I would like to be a regional director and that role is to support certain regions in the field. Regional directors oversee about eight cities. But I am not in any rush. I am 33 years old.

Question: When will you hit CEO?

Answer: Gary Kelly is doing an amazing job. I’m not interested in being CEO of Southwest Airlines. What I am interested in being CEO of internal and external customer care in Las Vegas.

Question: This industry is unusual in that all the competitors are thrown together in a confined space. To what extent are the different airline staffs rivals or does it come to that?

Answer: We talk to each other daily, weekly. We have meetings twice a month. We have a great partnership. We will poke fun at each other, but there’s no malice. We’re here to help each other.

When the US Airways flight went into the Hudson, the first call I made was to the US Airways station manager here to see if there was any way we could help. I get goose bumps saying it, but we really mean it.

Question: Is it frustrating that a sizable amount of the customer service on a flight is out of your control, such as with security lines?

Answer: We talk about this all the time. We talk with vendors and other people. If there is a specific situation with a customer with TSA (Transportation Security Administration), we meet with them about it so we can get back to our customers. What we try to do is control what we can control.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@ or 702-387-5290.

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