The U.S. airline industry really took it on the chin in April and May of 2017 over highly publicized reports of carriers’ engaging in negative interactions with their customers, such as United Airlines’ forcibly removing a passenger from a flight to make way for one of their employees, and Delta Air Lines’ booting a family off an overcrowded flight and threatening them with jail time.
Perhaps as a counterpoint or an “antidote” to that bad publicity, in May 2017 various online sources began reporting a “recent” heartwarming story about Southwest Airlines, who spontaneously interrupted the takeoff of a flight and immediately reticketed one of its passengers — because (unbeknownst to her) that passenger’s son had suffered a serious head injury and was in a hospital in another part of the country:
United Airlines has probably made you sick of reading about airlines by now, but we promise this story is a good one. Recently, Peggy Uhle was boarding a flight from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio. She decided to turn off her cell phone as the plane rolled away from the gate (talk about a good passenger). The plane went through its safety protocol and was ready for take off, but it wasn’t long until the plane decided to turn back around on the tarmac at Midway Airport and taxi back toward the gate. Peggy and other passengers were very confused as to what was going on.
Once the plane was anchored at the gate again, a flight attendant approached Peggy and asked her to get off. Peggy was confused and thought maybe she had boarded the wrong plane, but she agreed and got off the plane. When she got back inside the terminal, a gate agent told her to call her husband. He had been forced to contact Southwest Airlines because Peggy’s phone was turned off. But luckily, with the urgency of the airline the two spouses were able to get in contact with each other at the last moment.
It turned out that Peggy’s 24-year-old son had suffered a serious head injury and was in a coma in Denver, Colorado. But wait, there’s more. As Peggy was trying to take in the shocking news, a staffer explained that the airline had reticketed her on the next direct flight to Denver and arranged all of the other details for her. All for free.
In an interview with BoardingArea.com, Peggy explained more, “They offered a private waiting area, rerouted my luggage, allowed me to board first, and packed a lunch for when I got off the plane in Denver. My luggage was delivered to where I was staying, and I even received a call from Southwest asking how my son was doing.”
Luckily, her son has reportedly recovered from his injuries making for a happy ending to a story.
While we can’t prepare ourselves for the unexpected in life, it’s nice to know companies like Southwest Airlines can help make the situation less of a hassle when we need it the most. That’s taking care of your customer! United, take note!
This tale wasn’t something that would be properly classified as “fake news,” but it wasn’t something that would be properly classified as “recent,” either. It occurred, and was originally reported, nearly two years earlier, as the following 27 May 2015 account from Chicago station WGN documents:
It’s the news a parent never wants to get. Peggy Uhle was on a plane at Midway Airport when a flight attendant told her to get off the plane and call her husband.
Her 24-year-old son went into a coma after suffering a traumatic brain injury in Denver, and Uhle was stuck in Chicago on a layover, the BoardingArea blog reports.
Before she had a chance to figure out how she was going to get to her son, Southwest Airlines had already rebooked her on a Denver-bound flight leaving in two hours.
Airline staff brought her to a private waiting area, rerouted her luggage, allowed priority boarding and even packed her a lunch for when she arrived.
“We’re certainly proud of, but not surprised by, any of the hard work that went into doing the right thing for Ms. Uhle and her family,” said Southwest spokesperson Thais Hanson in a statement to WGN.
The airline also delivered her luggage to where she was staying and called a few days later to check on her son.
The airline, which has a policy of no change fees, never asked to be repaid for the rebooking.
“This example is a direct reflection of the Southwest Airlines Culture,” Hanson said. “Employees are empowered at Southwest to go above and beyond the call of duty and follow their Hearts to make decisions that positively impact our Customers.”
The airline recently received criticism after a woman claimed her flight crew denied a call to her suicidal husband after she received a troubling text message.