Posted by: Nancy | January 3, 2010

Travel vignette on caring

Once again, my younger sister (who is handicapped) was traveling home, alone, by airplane. She would take a Southwest Airways flight with a stop in Chicago, then on to Columbus.

It was one of the biggest travel days of the season, and the lines at Kansas City airport were as long as I’d ever seen them, even at 7 a.m. We got in line and hoped that we’d be able to get her bag checked in time to make the 8:25 a.m. flight.

There was a young man behind us in line who couldn’t stop cursing. He was angry and made everyone around him uncomfortable. He wasn’t going to have a good day no matter what.

The line moved reasonably well, and we got up at the front to talk with a Southwest Airlines rep, who helped me get a pass to go through security to assist my traveling sister. I was struck by how cheery she was, despite all the grumpy people around (like the guy behind us).

On through security and to the gate, where folks were already lined up and the gate attendant was preparing folks for preboarding. Wow, things were moving fast!

The gate attendant helped Beth get on board, and without more than a quick hug, she was gone. I waited around.

One of the attendants working the flight came up and made a brief announcement, at his colleague’s expense. He was exuberant and grinning, and he made all the folks in line grin and laugh, too. His plan: when the announcement comes on that cabin lights will be dimmed and to use your personal light, everyone would instead press the Attendant Call button. Everyone was laughing and in on the joke. It was a brilliant stroke of leadership on his part, with just a few words, he created a team with a common goal. Suddenly, everyone was in on a secret. It lightened the mood throughout the gate.

When he looked like he had a moment to spare, I approached him to alert him to my sister, now on board. She’d been coached to stay on the plane at the stop in Chicago — could he just keep an eye on her? The same grin greeted me.

“Oh yes, I saw her,” he said. Then he told me: I’ve seen some paperwork, as it turns out, there might be a change of planes in Chicago.

OH NO, I blurted, immediately thinking of alternatives: can I get her off? can I get a ticket on? what can I do? She wouldn’t be able to navigate Chicago on her own, I’m awash with what-now thoughts.

He’s calm and supportive: “No, don’t worry,” he says. “That’s what I’m telling you.” He’s looking at me steady, straight in the eye. “I will personally make sure she gets on the flight OK if we have to change planes. I will take care of it. Don’t worry.”

A thousand thank yous! He’s off, grinning now at someone else, addressing another crisis.

I wait around as the plane fills up, and a couple more times he swings by to offer minor updates. She’s settled in, the plane is full, it will be de-iced before takeoff — that’s normal, don’t worry!

I’m struck by his kindness and I trust him completely.

As it turns out, they did not have to change planes in Chicago and the flight went on to Columbus as planned. And once there, he walked with my sister all the way up to the public entrance to where our brother was waiting.

A thousand more thanks — those extra steps delivering her safely were beyond his duty.

I’m sorry I didn’t have the thought to ask his name, but he deserves recognition. His kindness and caring, the personal touch, meant everything.

Somehow, I believe that this is just the way he is. He cares, he wants folks to have a good experience.

That makes all the difference in the world.

So, to Southwest Airlines, thank you for putting him on Flight 3747 on January 2. Congratulations on your success, with him and all the cheerful folks you have working. Please keep doing what you are doing — caring for people matters.

For what it’s worth, Southwest, you’ve earned my loyalty and my business.

There’s good reminders here for us all. Attitude matters, it affects everyone around you. So as long as you’re going affect others anyway, why not take the time to care about them?


  1. Nancy…this is how you serve life, why would you expect anything different!! You are amazing! Thank you for the reminder!

  2. Shelley,
    Thank you!

  3. […] At the beginning of the year, I told the story of my sister’s travels from Kansas City to Columbus and the extraordinary care she received from Southwest Airlines. (“Travel Vignette on Caring“) […]

  4. […] Travel Vignette on Caring […]

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