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My Favorite Southwest Airlines Moment

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When I was in Customer Relations, we had a committee called the Spirit Committee.  This particular group works hard to ensure that birthdays, wedding showers, baby showers, and anything else worth celebrating (which is a lot here at Southwest Airlines) goes off “with a bang.”  So, when we got a “newbie” in the Department, we asked them to fill out the Spirit Committee questionnaire.  One of the questions was: “What’s your favorite Southwest moment?”  I have pondered this particular question for a while wondering if it was my first day at Southwest Airlines when my cube was decorated with hilarious welcome signs, or my first Southwest Halloween, or the first time I traveled on standby as an Employee.  Well, I finally have my answer. 

On August 8, I received a letter from a Customer requesting a refund for travel he had to cancel due to medical reasons.  This sort of request is nothing out of the ordinary in Customer Relations, but this letter in particular touched me.  In the letter, the Customer stated that he was an 87-year-old Veteran who was a POW in Germany during WWII and that this trip was planned so that he could finally fulfill his wish of traveling to the Northeast to see the leaves change in the fall.  I know that for many people, none of those facts would have given them cause to respond to the letter any differently, but, for me, I was reminded of someone very special: my grandfather.  He too was a POW in Germany during WWII.  In 1996, he traveled with my grandmother, mother, and aunt to see the leaves change.  He was also due to turn 87 at the end of August. 

As I scrolled down, I was able to see that the letter initially went to our Refunds Department, and while the Representative who received the request could have handled it without a problem, she went the extra mile and looked up this Customer online.  She found his WWII story and sent it to us for a more personal response.  I wondered what to say in my response and, while I didn’t want to go overboard, I felt like this letter came to me for a reason, so I responded with the following:

As fate would have it, your letter just happened to land in my hands.  Allow me to explain, my grandfather (who I fondly refer to as “Tops”) turned 87 on Monday.  He too was a POW in Germany during World War II.  He was in the 3rd Division and was captured in February of 1945.  He was moved around a few times during his captivity and was, at one time, on a work detail at Dachau.  I read your story, "German Prisoner No. *****," online and I am excited to share your story with Tops.  I have always been very grateful for what he did to protect our freedom, and I just wanted to let you know how thankful we are for your service to our country as well. 

I’m sorry to learn of your medical difficulties that kept you from taking a trip to New Hampshire this fall.  That said, I understand your reason for canceling the trip, and I am glad that we were able to refund your roundtrip air fare back to the original form of payment.

We truly value your business, and we would be honored to provide your air travel in the future should your health allow.  We wish you all the best. 

After sending the response in August, I was thrilled to learn in November that my new friend had written back with the following:

Dear Rachel:

Wow!  What a surprise.  Imagine getting a letter from someone unknown that knows about me.  I had no idea that what I wrote 64 years ago was on the internet.  The whole connection with your Grossvater and his POW experience is mind boggling.  I wish him a happy birthday.

You are a wonderful person.  As a psychologist and minister who has dealt with hundreds of people, I know already that you are the kind of person I would like to know.  You see, the main characteristic (soul) is the sum of their attitudes, and the chief attitude is gratitude.  If you live with gratitude, you will have reached life’s highest ideals.  And your letter is grateful.  You are a wonderful woman.  Thank you, thank you, for being you and for writing me. 
 
The truth is, it just doesn’t get any better than that. 

3 Comments

  1. My son Kyle is very special (37 yr.old with Downs Syndrome) and he flies your “special airline ” twice a year between Phoenix and Nashville. I picked him up yesterday in Nashville and I was late getting to his gate, because I was at C7 and he arrived at C21…As I hurried to meet him I spotted the captain who was walking towards me with a big smile…..He said “are you Kyle’s mom?”, and with that showed me pictures he had taken of Kyle with his I phone! His name is Perry, I think ,and he was warm and wonderful and caring as are all the Southwest employees that I have encountered for the past many years! Kyle was happy and smiling having been made “special” by your crew. Oh! he also showed me the big bag of peanuts he was given.

    Later, as we picked up his suitcase in baggage, a woman stopped me and said “are you Kyle’s mom?”. She said ,”he was such a gentleman” and had given up his seat so she could sit with her 2 little boys…..So that’s how everyone knew Kyle! And I’m proud to be his mom.
    Thanks for being so special , Southwest employees

  2. Ms. Barry,

    I used to fly SWA all the time due to my business. I now only need to fly sporatically. However, your thoughtfulness in regard to this Veteran and going the extra mile to show your appreciation is the very reason I fly SWA and no one else unless you dont go to where I’m headed.

    Typically, this type of attitude permeates throughout SWA and that is a reflection from above (as in the CEO and others in similar positions, not necessarily God above, though I’m sure that applies more readily because your kindness reflects His).

    Again, I find SWA is unique in their effort to make flying fun and caring. You all keep it up and I’m sure the profits will come.

    A loyal customer and flyer, on my way again on July 3rd to Seattle.
    -Paul D Lewton

  3. Rachel

    so you are purposely trying to get your customers to shed a few tears? Geez!

    you and your co-worker in Refunds deserve quite a few “atta girls!” for going above and beyond the call of duty.