Sunday, January 16, 2011

Flying The Silver Lining

The bad news: grandparents learn that their daughter's live-in boyfriend has allegedly murdered their three-year old grandson. The brain-dead child is soon to be taken off life-support, and the grandfather is booked on a flight to be at his daughter's side, to help her shoulder the tragedy of her son's final moments.

The worse news: The grandfather is racing against the clock to make his flight from Los Angeles to Denver. TSA and airline employees in both the security and bag check lines at Los Angeles airport are indifferent to his pleas for sympathetic (and speedy) treatment through the long lines; they offer him no help whatsover in speeding up the process. Despite arriving at the airport two hours before his flight, he ends up ten minutes late for his plane; the desperate grandfather makes a final scramble without shoes, and fleeting hope, down to the terminal.

The surprising good news waiting for him there, as told by his grateful wife:

When he got [to the terminal], the pilot of his plane and the ticketing agent both said, “Are you Mark? We held the plane for you and we’re so sorry about the loss of your grandson.”
The pilot held the plane that was supposed to take off at 11:50 until 12:02 when my husband got there.
As my husband walked down the Jetway with the pilot, he said, “I can’t thank you enough for this.”
The pilot responded with, “They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”

My husband was able to take his first deep breath of the day.
Consumer advocate and journalist Christopher Elliot, an acquaintance of the grandmother, contacted Southwest Airlines to get a comment on their staff's decision to break the rules for the sake of a grieving passenger:

[A] representative said the airline was “proud” of the way the pilot had held the flight. Again, most airlines would punish an employee who holds up the line for any reason.

ABC News has a video report on the story, with the last word given to the grandfather:

Dickinson says he never got the pilot's name and couldn't find him after the flight to thank him properly, and now just wants to shake his hand.
"I can't tell him how grateful I am that he did that for me," he said.
In this post-compassionate age of rampant cynicism and crass opportunism, it's refreshing to read this story of corporate compassion; if anything can be of solace to grieving families at a time like that in their lives, and to renew their faith in the potential for human goodness, surely it's the sterling example offered by Southwest Airlines, a company that dares to care.

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