Southwest Airlines free ukulele giveaway provoke internet backlash

Ever wanted to take a ukulele lesson on an airplane?

Somehow that’s the question dividing the internet this week.

(Side note: read to the end for how you might get two free Southwest Airlines tickets.)

On September 16, every passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from Long Beach, California to Honolulu received a free ukulele and an onboard lesson. They were also exposed — or maybe exposed — to a brief appearance by Aryyzona, a Los Angeles-based musician and social media influencer.

The airline reported on the flight on its social media platforms on Tuesday, and the reaction was immediate and polarized.

According to Alyssa Foster, a Southwest spokeswoman who helped coordinate the campaign, the posts generated an unusually high response rate. But, she said, the tone of those responses varies greatly by platform. Twitter users were generally less enthusiastic about the idea, but the airline’s fans on Instagram responded much more positively, she said.

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Before the pandemic, Southwest was known for these onboard “surprise and delight” programs, but they were paused during the voyage decline. After a few years without her, Foster said, many social media watchers may be learning about Southwest’s unique corporate culture for the first time.

“That’s awareness for you, and we’ve used it to promote this service from Hawaii to Long Beach,” she said. “If you’re not on board or haven’t experienced it, it’s extraordinary, and that’s the point… It’s special and unique in the Southwest.”

What goes into planning an onboard ukulele giveaway?

Foster told USA TODAY that any promotion like this requires a lot of forethought, and it’s not just about securing hundreds of instruments and cases. The airline and its partners are focused on what they want to promote — in this case, a relatively new flight from Long Beach to Honolulu for Southwest and the availability of lessons at the Guitar Center.

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Planners are also considering which flights make the most sense for an experience that, if Twitter is to be believed, not everyone would be excited about.

“We don’t want to do anything on a 6am flight,” Foster said. “We’re really thinking about what kind of customers are on board.”

Were people included?

Foster admitted the ukulele program used the plane’s PA system, but was quick to note that the whole thing lasted about 20 minutes on a roughly six-hour flight, and customers were encouraged to put their instruments away when it ended.

“There was still time for people to sit back and relax,” she said. “We wanted to make sure it was a fun experience from the start.”

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The three instructors on board were from the Guitar Center’s Pearl City store, and Foster said that since the service began in the islands, Southwest has sought to educate both its employees and customers about Hawaiian culture.

She also said the airline’s advanced planning meant there were no problems with carry-on luggage, which didn’t have enough space due to the extra instruments on board.

“Everyone had a great time. They were already on their way to Hawaii,” Foster said.

Guitar Center also offered to ship the ukuleles to passengers’ homes free of charge.

Can I get a free ukulele?

Maybe! Southwest is extending the promotion with a sweepstakes. The winner will receive two round-trip tickets to any location on the airline’s network, plus two ukuleles.

All you have to do is enter your details here.

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