Each month, hundreds and hundreds of letters come through the Customer Relations Department. But it’s not every day that one of these letters offers the opportunity to change a life.
Customer Relations and Rapid Rewards Writing Representative, Laura Anstine, had only been working for Southwest Airlines a few months when she received one such letter. The letter came from the Raulerson family, and it shared the story of their 12-year-old daughter, Tacey, who suffers from a rare, incurable cancer called Retinoblastoma, which has left her blind. Tacey’s mother wasn’t asking for any special handout, but instead, she simply wanted to share her daughter’s story.
After years of fighting to save her vision, the doctors and the Raulersons knew that in order to save her life, Tacey’s eye would need to be removed. Only weeks after her surgery, Tacey rode her first horse, and immediately, a new passion was fueled. Riding horses was Tacey’s escape, and she became particularly involved with rodeos.
Tammy’s mother wrote Southwest expressing her daughter’s greatest wish: to travel to Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo. In her letter, Tammy wrote, “Cancer may have taken her sight, but it did not take her courage.” Despite the family’s best efforts to save money and sacrifice all extra expenses, medical emergencies drew their funds empty, and they found themselves in a desperate place attempting to make their daughter’s wish come true.
Laura finished reading the letter teary-eyed, and immediately knew she had to do something. She first went to her supervisor, Brice Taylor, and pleaded with him to help.
“Please tell me we can do something,” Anstine remembers asking.
Brice advised Laura to visit with Customer Relations Senior Representative, Kim Seale, who had helped Customers in similar situations before. Laura remembers Seale’s words:
“This is a test of your Southwest Spirit,” Seale told Anstine. “This is why we hired you.
Now, what do you want to do?”
Anstine replied, “I’m getting them to Las Vegas.”
But, getting the Raulerson family to Las Vegas was only just the beginning. With Kim as her guide, Laura spent the next few days working with her Supervisors and Station Employees to make the Raulerson’s trip an unforgettable experience.
With the support of her Leaders, Laura was able to cover all airfare costs for the Raulerson family’s trip to Las Vegas. They had simply asked for a discount on airfare, but Laura was determined to go above and beyond.
After explaining Tacey’s story to the stations, the Ground Operations Employees took it from there. As soon as the Raulerson family entered the Austin airport, the family was treated like royalty. Austin Employees, including Rex Snell, Customer Service Manager, met the family at the entrance to the airport with candy and a stuffed horse for Tacey. They also escorted the family to their gate and completed the send off with a water salute.
Completely unbeknownst to Laura, the Flight Attendants introduced Tacey on her flight to Vegas. The flight was full with other cowboys also traveling to the National Finals Rodeo, and a couple of Customers were particularly touched by Tacey’s story. So much so, that the Customers started a donations envelope to give to Tacey’s family. By the time the envelope reached the front of the plane, the Customers onboard had raised over $500 for the Raulerson family. Tacey later used some of the money to purchase a coveted Charlie 1 Horse she had been asking for to match her rodeo outfits.
Upon arriving in Las Vegas, Tacey and her family continued to be showered with surprises. With the help of Eric Woodson, Marketing Planning and Performance Manager, the Raulersons continued to receive special attention, making the trip an unforgettable experience for Tacey. Even after she had returned home, Tacey continued to receive presents from her Southwest Airlines and rodeo friends, including trophy spurs and logo golf balls (which her father was especially excited about!), and a signed poster from the National Finals Rodeo.
Tammy Raulerson, Tacey’s mother, reflected on their experience:
“We all go through our own journeys dealing with situations. While ours has been a very difficult journey, it has also been the most uplifting, incredible experience of my life! Our family doesn’t believe in chance happenings or coincidences. We believe everything happens for a reason. God puts special people in our paths and our lives to help open doors and windows for Tacey. We have met incredible people and had awesome experiences because of the paths we have had to transverse. As much as we dislike (or despise) this disease, it has made Tacey who she is today!”
Laura’s career at Southwest Airlines will never be the same, knowing she has the support of her Team and her Leaders to help someone in need. And the Raulerson’s family will always hold a special place in their hearts for the airline that made their daughter’s dreams come true.