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Southwest Adds 'Mechanical Difficulties' To Act Of God List 223

Posted by samzenpus
from the blameless-travel dept.
War, earthquakes, and broken washers are all unavoidable events for which a carrier should not be liable if travel is delayed according to Southwest Airlines. Southwest quietly updated their act of God list a few weeks ago to include mechanical problems with the other horrors of an angry travel god. From the article: "Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst based in Port Washington, NY, called it 'surprising' that Southwest, which has a reputation for stellar customer service, would make a change that puts passengers at a legal disadvantage if an aircraft breakdown delays their travel. Keeping a fleet mechanically sound 'is certainly within the control of any airline,' Mann said. 'Putting mechanical issues in the same category as an act of God — I don't think that's what God intended.'"
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Southwest Adds 'Mechanical Difficulties' To Act Of God List

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  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:12PM (#33035840)
    Is God part of their fleet maintenance engineering crew?
    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:25PM (#33036048)

      I don't know, have you seen the latest security measures?

      "Thou shalt not bring liquids over 3 oz in thine carry-on luggage, for it is an abomination and potentially a bomb (anation).

      Thou shalt remove thine shoes from thine feet, for thee art in a place of holy security, and also we want it to look like we learned something from that shoe bomber incident.

      Thou shalt not bring hammers onto the plane, for in the face of a terrorist wielding a hammer all are paralyzed with fear and would not be able to stop him from hammering out the windows and depressurizing the cabin, causing extreme discomfort for all therein.

      Thou shalt not question TSA rules, for they keep you safe so long as terrorists continue to be inconceivably stupid and incapable of lighting the bombs they hath smuggled aboard the airplane"

      Pretty sure God works for TSA and doesn't take his job very seriously.

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Monday July 26, 2010 @05:34PM (#33037152)

        "First shalt thou take out the Holy ziploc bag, then shalt thou count to three ounces, no more, no less. Three shall be the number of ounces, and the number ounces shall be three. Four ounces shalt thou not bring, neither thou two ziploc bags, excepting that thou then proceed to check one. Five ounces is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then handest thou thy Holy ziploc bag to thy TSA screener, who being arbitrary in My sight, shall confiscate it anyway."

    • At one point in his career the Christian god was a carpenter who could turn water into wine at will. If he's like any of the carpenters I know that's a terrible combination. I'm thinking that there's a reason that the bible didn't mention his skill as a craftsman. Combine that with a slight grudge toward humanity over that whole brutally tortured to death thing and a difficultly with holding things like small screws and such and I might grab the next flight if he'd worked on it.
    • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:44PM (#33036374) Journal

      He should be since all thier mechanics pray to him before every take off.

    • Indeed. After cutting nearly everyone else to keep fares low, they now just pray that nothing breaks.

    • by IvyMike (178408)
      Does some dude named "Jesus" count?
    • Putting "god" in a law ... makes you trust the justice system so much ...

    • I don't think that's what God intended.

      I don't remember seeing a book in the bible that covers aircraft maintenance or aviation component failure.

      Was it in one of the commandments?

      "Thou shalt not allow a faulty inertial reference sensor to delay departure."

      Maybe it's part of the 8th: Thou shall not steal - the right of your passengers to sue you for failing to uphold your departure commitment.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jmrives (1019046)
      Yeah, I am sure they have someone named Jesus working there.
  • Statistics should be considered an "Act of God".
    • Don't say that near any 6-Sigma guys :-)

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Wars too, it would seem...

    • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:26PM (#33036080) Homepage Journal

      >> Statistics should be considered an "Act of God".

      So should arriving on time with all you luggage intact.

    • by NonSequor (230139)

      Absolutely. If a part fails within its operating parameters, which is always a possibility, that's a circumstance outside of human control.

      Of course, operating a part outside of its operating parameters, or defining unrealistic operating parameters, would be negligence.

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Monday July 26, 2010 @08:15PM (#33038662) Journal

        A part failing is outside of human control. Whether or not you have spare parts on hand, however, is well within human control. Similarly, whether or not you have a spare plane to use while the first one is being repaired is also well within human control. The question of whether force majeure [wikipedia.org] or equivalent contract clauses should apply is not one of whether a failure could have been prevented, but rather whether the failed flight could reasonably have been prevented by having plans in place to handle equipment failures gracefully.

        Failures are a part of doing business. The term "acts of God" is intended to protect only against failures that either cannot reasonably be foreseen (overthrow of a government, for example) or are so catastrophic that they cannot be dealt with when they do occur (a hurricane, for example). It is not intended to allow a company to not take responsibility for normal day-to-day failures. A competent, responsible company is expected to have contingency plans in place to deal with a reasonable number of normal day-to-day failures. If a company does not, it is inept and should be allowed to go bankrupt as quickly as possible so that more competent companies can take its place.

        Remember that any delay caused by aircraft equipment failure could have been prevented with a single spare plane in the right location.

  • by capnchicken (664317) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:13PM (#33035860)

    ... probably figured that this might overcome their bags fly free policy while still remaining competitive. Marketing won't like it if this story gets any bigger, kudos to the Arizona Daily Star for breaking it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Virtucon (127420)

      Gary Kelly is a Bean Counter. He was CFO prior to being named to his current position and it's just a way that they don't have to book you on another airline or pay for overnight accommodations if they have a mechanical problem. From a marketing perspective this is an incentive to buy "Travel Insurance." Bah...

      http://www.southwest.com/swamedia/bios/gary_kelly.html [southwest.com]

  • Mechanical failure (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:13PM (#33035864)

    So if my car breaks and crashes into a state trooper, killing him, I can claim that my shoddy repairs were an act of god? AWESOME! *goes for a drive*

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:13PM (#33035872)
    ...to the acts of God list, you better add 'my angry fist to your prone crotch', you cheap assholes. Typical Southwest bullshit.
  • Just add "Management Incompetence" to the list or add it at least as natural constant.
    • Just add "Management Incompetence" to the list or add it at least as natural constant.

      I don't think there is an airline that doesn't have that one on their list...

      • by mseeger (40923)

        Just add "Management Incompetence" to the list or add it at least as natural constant.

        I don't think there is an airline that doesn't have that one on their list...

        Dunno what you're talking about *** Humming United Breaks Guitars ****

  • ... once you start babbling about the effect of capricious supernatural sky fairies on mass transportation. What's the difference between a transistor burning out in a VOR receiver, versus a sudden hailstorm that shuts down the whole airport? Only a matter of scale.

    • Lets see, one is a mechanical problem, the other is weather. I'd say a big difference, and not just in scale.

      • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:22PM (#33035998)

        You don't think an angry sky wizard could burn out a transistor?

        Maybe the pilot and copilot are gay lovers, or maybe they had shrimp for lunch, or failed to say the correct prayers at the correct times, it seems from the relevant documentation anything pisses off those types.

        • Since I don't know of any sky wizards (or sky fairies) I cannot answer your question.

        • It's a freaking figure of speech. Not one (Well, no one who matters) really thinks that divine beings actually take an interest in whether your plane takes off on time. The point is that "act of God" typically refer to matters outside the control of the airline, thus allowing them to make an valid argument that they can't be expected to pay for the result. Maintenance is well within the control of the airline and should not be considered under "acts of God" protection.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      I agree, do they have an "acts of leprechauns" or "acts of gremlins" section too?

      Even weather delays are often partly the airlines fault for not having enough spare capacity. I have been delayed more than once due to a weather issue at another airport thus delaying the plane I was supposed to board.

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        I saw that episode as well. I was surprised that Kirk didn't get any action from the stewardess and Spock wasn't helpful at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Meshach (578918)
      The trouble is that the TOS modification we are talking about explicitly does not define what a mechanical failure is. From TFA:

      I can see (carriers) saying, 'It wasn't our fault the airplane broke down

      . Until this is better defined I cannot see it holding any legal power in any court.

    • by russ1337 (938915) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:31PM (#33036158)

      ... once you start babbling about the effect of capricious supernatural sky fairies on mass transportation. What's the difference between a transistor burning out in a VOR receiver, versus a sudden hailstorm that shuts down the whole airport? Only a matter of scale.

      None actually.

      CFR 14, Part 25, Rule 25.1309.

      (a) The equipment, systems, and installations whose functioning is required by this subchapter, must be designed to ensure that they perform their intended functions under any foreseeable operating condition. (1) The occurrence of any failure condition which would prevent the continued safe flight and landing of the airplane is extremely improbable, and [(2) The occurrence of any other failure condition which would reduce the capability of the airplane or the ability of the crew to cope with adverse operating conditions is improbable. [snip] (g) In showing compliance with paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section with regard to the electrical system and equipment design and installation, critical environmental conditions must be considered.

      http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgFAR.nsf/0/EF544B3CFE11DB2B85256673004D3EC4?OpenDocument [faa.gov]

    • by tbird20d (600059)

      ...effect of capricious supernatural sky fairies...

      I know diety disdain is popular here on Slashdot, but "Act of God" [wikipedia.org] is a legal term of art. You can calm down now.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cgenman (325138)

      Exceptions for acts of god makes sense. After all, should an airline be held responsible for the unknowable, infallible actions of our omnipotent creator?

      Of course, they want notarized proof if your sick and need to change planes. I want Southwest to get a note from God that He authorized the act. Also, a xeroxed copy of His driver's license or passport proving His identity. And His signature, which must match the signature card from a local bank.

      Also, I want to know why He keeps making the Yankees win.

  • by Just_Say_Duhhh (1318603) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:16PM (#33035928)
    How many passengers sit down in those oh-so-comfy airplane seats, buckle in and quietly say, "Oh god, PLEASE don't let this airplane fall apart!"

    If god chooses not to listen, should SWA be held liable?
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Do you suppose an entire plane full of passengers praying for mercy counters what I say when I get on a plane: "hey god, you've been waiting for a long time, now's your chance - take your best shot?"

      Not that I've ever flown Southwest.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    By this logic my insurance company should be liable for when my car breaks down. Woohoo!

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      You won't say that when you see the new premiums.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by russ1337 (938915)
      It is a little ironic that if my car breaks down it is an act of God, yet I only able to buy an extended warranty from companies who are agents of the Devil...
  • by Rollgunner (630808) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:19PM (#33035962)
    But He has been known to loosen a nut from time to time.
  • I thought mechanical problems were due to gremlins, not God. I guess He does it all.
  • This story is false (Score:5, Informative)

    by longacre (1090157) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:22PM (#33036008) Homepage
    The story has already been debunked as the result of the deadly combination of a poorly worded contract, lazy reporting, and/or a confused Southwest spokesperson who commented on the initial report.

    "Mechanical difficulties" refers those occurring at an airport or in the air traffic control system: For example, if a control tower has an outage which forces the closure of an airport; or if the fuel delivery system at an airport breaks down.

    See: Truthsquadding the Southwest Airlines “Act of God” controversy: “Ultimately this is a reporting error run amok” [elliott.org]
    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:26PM (#33036082)

      Those still seem like maintenance issues that the airline is responsible for as they rent those services to provide service to their customers. They in that case sure as hell should be refunding tickets and compensating travelers stuck in those closed airports. The airline should then seek relief from the airport under whatever contracts they have.

      • by John Hasler (414242) on Monday July 26, 2010 @09:24PM (#33039172) Homepage

        > Those still seem like maintenance issues that the airline is responsible for
        > as they rent those services to provide service to their customers.

        The air traffic control system is not a service they rent. It's a Federal government monopoly. They use it or they don't fly and they have no recourse when in breaks down.

        > The airline should then seek relief from the airport under whatever
        > contracts they have.

        The airports are generally local government monopolies. It's unlikely that the airline has any recourse their either.

    • by blair1q (305137) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:27PM (#33036094) Journal

      Those aren't acts of god.

      Those are acts for which the people who are liable are liable.

      They may not be Southwest's fault, but they're certainly the responsibility of someone who should pay for the delays.

      The air travel system didn't sell me a lottery ticket, it sold me a takeoff and landing time at two identified airports. If any of those things is wrong, it's on their heads.

      • by greg1104 (461138)

        The air travel system didn't sell me a lottery ticket...

        Then why is it that I feel like I've hit the lottery on the rare occasion when I actually make a connecting flight?

      • by cprocjr (1237004) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:36PM (#33036236) Journal
        What southwest is saying is that it's not THEIR fault that the control tower broke, so don't sue them. Instead sue the people responsible: the airport.
        • by Burdell (228580) on Monday July 26, 2010 @06:34PM (#33037630)

          I pay the airline, and the airline pays the airport, the fuel service, etc. The airline owes me if they don't deliver me to my destination on time; if it is somebody else's fault, the airline can go after their suppliers, vendors, etc. to recoup their costs (presumably they have that type of thing in their contracts).

          • by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecransNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @07:49PM (#33052090) Homepage

            I pay the airline, and the airline pays the airport, the fuel service, etc. The airline owes me if they don't deliver me to my destination on time; if it is somebody else's fault, the airline can go after their suppliers, vendors, etc. to recoup their costs (presumably they have that type of thing in their contracts).

            Yeah. If my rent is late, my landlord has an issue with me. It doesn't matter if I got paid, or if my paycheck bounced, or if it has been a slow quarter for sales of the new FooBar 2000. The landlord doesn't have to sue my boss, or the HR department, or the customers who aren't buying our product, or my company's landlord who took all their money for rent. My landlord only has a problem with me. I may then have to sue the company where I work in order to get compensation for the fact that my paycheck bounced and it resulted in my landlord suing me.

            If the airport promised the airline a working tower, then the airline can sue them. If the airline promised me a flight, I can sue them. I really don't think we should have all these special aristocracy-style exceptions in the law for specific types of corporations. The airline could operate their own fueling hardware and invest in a backup tower if they didn't trust the existing infrastructure. The decision not to do that was by the management, and they sure as hell aren't deities. Regardless of what the law says.

      • by unix1 (1667411)

        That's right. However, those events in the contract were under a bigger umbrella of Force majeure [wikipedia.org] and not under Act of God [wikipedia.org]. GP is right - the contract was just poorly worded in a way that this was not clear.

        Disclaimer: IANAL

    • by sirwired (27582) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:35PM (#33036220)

      This wasn't "lazy reporting" or a "reporting error", the plain wording of the contract was quite clear. If they meant "mechanical difficulties with things we don't own or operate", then they should have said so.

      SirWired

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by elrous0 (869638) *
        They retroactively decided that's what they meant after it started getting bad press.
    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      "Mechanical difficulties" refers those occurring at an airport or in the air traffic control system: For example, if a control tower has an outage which forces the closure of an airport; or if the fuel delivery system at an airport breaks down.

      So, if the fleet of fuel trucks Southwest owns and keeps at an airport all break down, Southwest thinks they aren't liable?

    • by mrmeval (662166)

      It's like Battlesarred Galactica all the machines are GODS FAULT.

  • With enough material sciences knowledge about how an object breaks down, and under what circumstances, I am surprised that any company can reasonably say that "We don't know why / when a part can break down suddenly" and let me sit you on the tarmac for who knows how many hours, while we replace what we should have in the first place.
  • ...you should see their pilot training. Instead of learning correct operating procedure for an airplane and controlled airspace, their pilots are taught to shut their eyes and repeat "oh god! oh god! oh god!". Apparently this has allowed them to save a lot of money by combining training for their pilots and hosties.

  • RTFA much? (Score:5, Informative)

    by zorg50 (581726) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:29PM (#33036124)

    Despite the FA headline, 'mechanical difficulties' is in fact NOT in an acts of God list. Rather, they added it to their list of 'Force Majeure' events, along with 'acts of God.' From their Contract of Carriage [southwest.com]:

    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.

    Likewise, the body of the FA correctly states that both mechanical difficulties and acts of God are in the same list. Of course, that doesn't make for such an eye-grabbing headline...

  • This seems like a ploy to be able to skimp on maintenance people and stores of replacement parts. After all, if mechanical difficulties is on their "Act of God" list, they don't need to rush to repair the plane, so they can just keep a few of the most common parts and some mechanics at a few central locations, and then fly them out to where they're needed. Ran out of parts and available mechanics? Too bad. God shouldn't have broken the plane.

  • it's called (Score:5, Funny)

    by bugs2squash (1132591) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:33PM (#33036184)
    intelligent maintenance.
  • I have to say... (Score:4, Informative)

    by N0Man74 (1620447) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:33PM (#33036186)

    I've never been a fan of deus ex machina.

  • ... sure ain't no Intelligent Designer.

  • Well I suppose it would be an Act of God that the plane actually flown with mechanical problems and safely arrives for the repair before it takes on another load of passengers.

  • Last I checked I live in a secular state, where I am free to chose which god to worship - or none at all. Why then should I be held to someone else's beliefs of a god when traveling by air?
    • by longbot (789962)
      It's what the huddled masses perceive chaos theory as. Also, lawyer weasel words that enable them to get out of being responsible for certain circumstances.
    • "Acts of God" is a legal term encompassing chance events, sudden natural disasters, and other unforeseeable and uncontrollable happenings. Forest fires, lightning, earthquakes, meteor strikes, volcanic eruptions, sudden sinkholes, etc.

      The lawyers and judges understand what it means. It's a standard part of contracts and has nothing to do with any deity or religious belief whatsoever.

  • by horatio (127595) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:45PM (#33036386)
    This is lazy reporting, nothing more. If the AZ Star et al. had bothered to talk to Southwest [elliott.org] about it, they might have gotten a clue. It is a sensationalist headline to draw eyeballs and gin up controversy where there is none.

    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.

  • Southwest, which has a reputation for stellar customer service

    Do they? Last I checked, they hate people and they do not enjoy making money. First, there was the Kevin Smith incident, and more recently, there was an incident where a skinny woman was kicked off a plane so a fat person could have two seats. [sacbee.com] In what world is this "stellar" customer service?

    • by rickb928 (945187)

      Do they? Last time I flew Southwest (July 2009) they:

      - Got me where I was going on time,

      - Offered me two (2) packages of peanuts as a snack, and two packages of cookies as well.

      - Had room for my bags in both directions.

      The last time I flew Delta (July 2010) they:

      - Would not let me change seats online.

      - Would not tell me my seat assignment on the commuter segments until after boarding, so that 'passengers with special needs could be accomodated'. They seated three standby passengers before me on one flight

  • What does God need with a jetliner?

  • A washer mysteriously disappearing because God wills a plane full of evil people to crash is an Act of God.
    A washer breaking and plane crashing because Southwest elected to buy cheaper and, hence, poorer quality washers is not an Act of God.

  • And mechanic apparently.

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