The story created by “living the brand.”

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Southwest Airlines has built a monumentally successful business model as a low fare, no frills service-oriented airline. A key component in this model is to “keep the planes in the air” understanding that the longer a plane is on the ground, the less revenue it generates. Southwest has revolutionized the industry by developing systems that allow their crews to flip a plane in under 20 minutes.

So what do you think Southwest Airlines would do if one of its employees took it upon himself to delay a plane by 12 additional minutes, nearly doubling the turnaround time for the flight? One decision by one line employee could potentially have a rippling effect through the entire carrier’s flight operations. Connections could be missed. Passengers irritated. It’s no stretch to say that Southwest would be justified in terminating the “loose cannon” that made such a decision.

But wait till you hear the rest of the story.

As reported by Christopher Elliot on consumertravel.com, he received a letter from a reader named Nancy chronicling the story. I am reposting Nancy’s letter as Chris reported it.

“Last night, my husband and I got the tragic news that our three-year-old grandson in Denver had been murdered by our daughter’s live-in boyfriend.

He is being taken off life support tonight at 9 o’clock and his parents have opted for organ donation, which will take place immediately. Over 25 people will receive his gift tonight and many lives will be saved.

This morning, after only a couple hours sleep, my husband and I began to make all arrangements to get him to Denver to be with our daughter. He is currently on business in LA and is flying Southwest.

While his employer, Northrop Grumman, made arrangements to get his ticket changed so he could get to Tucson today (which he had to do in order to not spend any extra money) I called Southwest to arrange his flight from Tucson to Denver so he would be stepping off one plane and getting on another.

He has several free flights with them so I couldn’t really do it on the website. The ticketing agent was holding back tears throughout the call.

In LAX, the lines to both check a bag and get through security were exceptional. He got to the airport two hours early and was still late getting to his plane.

Every step of the way, he’s on the verge of tears and trying to get assistance from both TSA and Southwest employees to get to his plane on time.

According to him, everyone he talked to couldn’t have cared less. When he was done with security, he grabbed his computer bag, shoes and belt and ran to his terminal in his stocking feet.

When he got there, 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.

I don’t know any other airline that would have done this.”

All of a sudden, those 12 minutes don’t seem like such a big deal.

Why would a pilot feel empowered to rock the boat in order to accommodate just one passenger? I’ve got to believe it has to do with the fact that SWA’s “People First” culture is so ingrained that the pilot and gate agent really saw it as a no-brainer. They didn’t need to run it by anyone upstairs. They didn’t need a corporate directive telling them when they should and shouldn’t take such actions. They instinctively knew it was the right thing to do.

It also created a terrific story. Every passenger on that flight could imagine Southwest doing the same thing for them. And in this age of Social Media, a compelling story like this will spread like wildfire. Check out the airline’s Facebook page for a sampling of what the general public has to say.

We all say our customers are important. We all claim to be customer-centric. But how many of us would be willing to go so far out on a limb for one customer?

There’s an old saying that a principle only becomes a principle when it costs you money. This pilot’s decision may have cost Southwest financially. But it more than made up for it in good will.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.

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