Our 13-year-old looked confused as she opened her gift on Christmas morning. Carry-on luggage with swimsuits and sunscreen made no sense as Oklahoma had snow on the ground. She was excited to hear that she had a few hours to finish packing because we were going on our first family cruise. The surprise continued when we arrived at the airport and one of her best friends walked in behind us. It was a family and friend’s cruise! Merry Christmas baby girl!
Hours later, the “Merry” had worn off as we were still standing in line to check our bags and get our boarding passes. We could see from the board on the wall that our flight had not been cancelled but we sensed there might be a problem. The self-service kiosks were glitching. There were only two employees behind the counter. Everyone was getting stressed and frustrated. These employees were doing the best they could to remedy difficulties, but it was taking them so long with each customer that flights were being missed. Every transaction it seemed required a phone call or radio assistance because the computer wasn’t making sense to them. Many passengers turned away from the counter only to head back to their car not to board a plane. I began preparing myself for bad news.
We stepped up when it was our turn. Immediately after pulling up our information, she began communicating that she had no idea what had happened and no idea how to fix it. We no longer had seats on our flights even though we had confirmation numbers. This sweet woman made a phone call to see if she could get 7 people (us!) anywhere close to Miami, Florida so we wouldn’t miss our cruise. Orlando? No. Jacksonville? No. Fort Lauderdale? No. Fort Meyers? No. She asked if we were willing to separate and we indicated that as long as each child was with an adult, we would be willing. Tampa? No. West Palm Beach? No. Charleston, South Carolina? No. Long story (and long day) very short, we never left the airport on a flight either. We had to turn to our kids and tell them that it was too late to drive and there were no flights that could get us there in time. We had to watch those excited faces turn to disappointment as we told them there would be no Christmas cruise. No week in the tropics with family and friends. For a moment, it was a nightmare. Until it wasn’t.
It didn’t take long for me to realize this wasn’t deserving of dramatic nightmarish responses. It wasn’t a nightmare because our kids are healthy. It wasn’t a nightmare because we were still all together. It wasn’t a nightmare because we weren’t stranded somewhere far from home. It wasn’t a nightmare because I wasn’t that poor employee who had to tell another hundred people that Christmas day wasn’t go the way they imagined it would. It wasn’t a nightmare because I wasn’t being yelled at and called names over and over by frustrated and exhausted travelers. I wasn’t among those trying so hard to be helpful and coming up empty at every push of the button in that failed system. THAT HAD TO BE A NIGHTMARE. We could have taken the opportunity to go all nightmarish in our response, but the truth is, we missed a cruise. A cruise we didn’t buy the insurance for, so we also lost a lot of money. Lesson learned. We missed a getaway our family is in desperate need of. We missed 4 days in the sun. We missed beach memories with our friends and our kid. It was certainly a disappointment, but it was not a nightmare. It was a first world really bad day! If given the choice I would take it over the nightmare these Southwest employees have had to endure this week. So, I’m writing this for them.
Southwest Airlines, there is a heart on your logo for a reason. You care. You care about us and each other and we saw it. This week doesn’t take that away! Keep your heads up. Keep caring. We saw your efforts, your kindnesses, and your integrity in the face of some very stressful circumstances. We saw you continue to try even as the system you were working in became untenable. We saw it and it mattered. We still see it. Thank you for choosing to be those kinds of humans. Be encouraged that this will pass. How you handle this will reveal your strength all over again. Keep showing up. Keep answering the phone and the questions. Keep being kind especially when you can’t solve every issue or please every passenger. Keep asking for what you need so that you can do your job well.
Most of all, know that there was at least one passenger who left the airport thinking about you on Christmas day, not themselves. In the days that have followed, as more information about your disaster has unfolded, those thoughts have become prayers. I pray that passengers encourage you, show patience, and share kindnesses with you in record number in these weeks to come. I’m praying that your bosses champion you through this time by reminding you of all that you are doing right and well. I’m praying that the owners, administrators, and decision makers pay attention to and take care of what you have experienced BEFORE they address what we have experienced. And I’m sincerely hoping that the rest of us follow your lead as we remind ourselves that it always matters who we choose to be when things get difficult, and people are unkind. Your example is not lost on us. Thank you for who you have chosen to be.