As citizens of the world, we deal with corporations every single day of our lives. Most of the time, they seem like faceless giants; massive money robots out to conduct transactions and nothing more. Once in a while, though, we see the humanity in a corporation and realize that even the largest companies on the planet are just commercial amoebas made up of actual people each dedicated to a single function of their corporeal corporation. Last week, I called Southwest Airlines and found a direct line to its compassionate heart.
I went to Michigan a week ago with my girlfriend to visit her brand new nephew. At the same time, her brave grandmother was fighting against the devastating havoc that cancer wreaks. It became clear soon after we landed that while we were there to celebrate the gift of life in the form of the newborn, we would also be mourning the loss of life with her grandmother.
Our Southwest flights were scheduled to depart mid-afternoon on Monday. Late Sunday night we got the call that her beloved grandmother had finally let go. There was no way we could leave, so we started looking into changing our flights. As you may know, Southwest already has a generous no-change-fee policy, which is why we bought our flights through them in the first place. Unfortunately, while you save on the change fees, you still have to pay the fare difference and buying a new fare two days away meant that the generous “Wanna Get Away?” fare that we had originally purchased was now gone and replaced with a price that was twice as expensive.
My girlfriend paid the difference online, but since I had purchased in points and no longer had enough points left, I called Southwest to see if I could pay the fare difference in cash. When I explained my situation, the customer service agent put me on hold to “check on something.” Here we go, I thought. They’re going to find some way to make me pay even more than just the change fee. Maybe a last minute fee? Some sort of extra fare adjustment handling tax, perhaps? When she came back on the phone, though, that wasn’t the case at all.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Kessler. We’re going to honor your original fare on the new flight as a courtesy.”
I was floored. I’ve called into airlines before about bereavement fares and found that they’re generally just as expensive as regular tickets. Here, a woman who had never met me was extending a courtesy that was saving me $250 purely because she (and Southwest) had the compassion and empathy to know what it’s like to change travel plans because of a death in the family.
I not only thanked her, I also asked to speak to her supervisor. When I got her boss on the phone I thanked her, too, and made sure they noted how much I valued their compassion and the professionalism of the rep with whom I originally spoke. In the face of tragedy like this, it was so nice to see that major corporations like Southwest Airlines are filled with real people and those real people can act like neighbors even when they’re just a voice on the other end of the phone.