During the last week, several news outlets and bloggers — including most recently, the Arizona Daily Star — have breathlessly reported that Southwest Airlines quietly revised its contract to define mechanical delays as an “Act of God.”
Seriously? Mechanical delays are now the work of the Almighty?
As someone who almost attended seminary, I was interested in that development from a theological perspective. I feel sorry for my friends at Southwest who had to answer my email — and on a Sunday, no less. But much to their credit, they did.
Here’s what the airline’s contract says:
Force Majeure Event means any event outside of Carrier’s control, including, without limitation, acts of God, meteorological events, such as storms, rain, wind, fire, fog, flooding, earthquakes, haze, volcanic eruption or any other event, including, without limitation, government action, disturbances or potentially volatile international conditions, civil commotions, riots, embargoes, wars, or hostilities, whether actual, threatened, or reported, strikes, work stoppage, slowdown, lockout or any other labor related dispute involving or affecting Carrier’s service, mechanical difficulties, Air Traffic Control, the inability to obtain fuel, labor or landing facilities for the flight in question or any fact not reasonably foreseen, anticipated or predicted by Carrier.
The consensus among my media colleagues seems to be that Southwest is saying all mechanical delays are beyond its control — that they are essentially an act of God.
Unless you’re a Calvinist, this is theologically problematic. So I checked with Southwest to see how it interprets its new contract.
“I have learned today that despite lengthy phone calls and explanations with both the Arizona Daily Star and Smarter Travel, confusion still reigns supreme,” said spokeswoman Linda Rutherford. “Other news accounts have been taking ‘mechanical difficulties’ completely out of context. So, ultimately this is a reporting error run amok in our new age of the Internet.”
Rurtherford says Southwest had never before defined force majeure events in its contract of carriage, which is its legal agreement between customers and the carrier.
In our latest update, we offered our definition, which states that “Force Majeure Event means any event outside of Carrier’s control” and so the “mechanical difficulties” we are referring to as Force Majeure events would be those outside of our control, such as airport mechanical difficulties (e.g., the airport de-icing system breaks) or Air Traffic Control issues (e.g., airport or regional tower goes down).
We are not referring to our own aircraft mechanical difficulties, which would clearly be under our control. Our policies and practices confirm this interpretation.
None of our procedures have changed — we still accommodate customers exactly the same as we did previously in the event of our own aircraft mechanical issues occur.
In other words, Southwest is defining mechanical difficulties that it can’t control and that are classified as a force majeure event.
As I review the contract language, I don’t necessarily see how Southwest is calling mechanical delays an act of God. But I think it would be helpful to clear that up during the next contract revision.
(Photo: Swami bu/Flickr Creative Commons)