Customer Service

Today, my son Jacob is taking his very first airplane trip alone.  So of course I woke up wondering if John and I had told him everything he needed to know before hand.

It was a very early morning flight, so he’d arranged to stay with a friend near the airport and take a cab from there.  When I woke up, I immediately checked up on him.  Err, in on him.

He was at the airport in plenty of time, and had even found his gate.  But I could feel his eyes rolling from across the miles when I suggested he sit at the gate and not move until they called his flight.

Because once I made the mistake of not doing that …

***

It was March 31, 1997, and my mother had died the day before. John, Jacob and I picked up my sister Beth who lived not far away, and they dropped the two of us off at National Airport, to take our flight south to Florida to help Dad with the funeral arrangements.  To be there with him.  John and Jacob would follow in a few days.

“The Terminal is under construction, so leave yourselves extra time to get to the gate,” John warned us as he said good-bye.

Yes, National Airport’s Terminal A was a complete mess.  There were barricades everywhere, dust, dirt, grime.  The air was thick with it.

We found the US Airways desk conveniently located just outside of an Au Bon Pain.

Google Image

Google Image

We got some drinks and sat down at a table.  I took a seat facing the US Airways desk, with the information about our flight scrolling across the top.

Like every shy person I’ve ever known when they’re with someone they know, Beth began talking and kept on.  She talked about Mom, about being a kid, told stories that I had heard, and ones I hadn’t.  It was really wonderful, just sitting there.  Neither of us wanted to be going to Florida.   Neither of course, wanted to be motherless, either.

I kept looking at my watch, and at the information desk, which kept displaying information about our flight.  I was just about to go and check, when the display began giving information about another flight.

“Grab your stuff, Beth,” I said over my shoulder as I headed to the desk to find out what was going on.  We hadn’t heard any announcement.  Fortunately, Beth was right behind me.

“Ma’m,” I said to one of the two women at the desk, holding out my boarding pass. “What happened to Flight 183 to Ft. Myers?”

“That flight just pulled away from the terminal.”

NO!!!!!! BRING IT BACK!!!” I shouted, with a voice full of all the pain of my loss, “IT’S FOR MY MOTHER’S FUNERAL!!!!”

I began to sob.  Loudly.  In the empty airport terminal, my sobs echoed off the ceiling.

“Lease,” Beth said, starting to console me, “It’ll be OK.”

I got what we call the “sup-sups” — where you can’t stop crying, and you can’t quite breathe either.  I couldn’t stop.

The clerks looked at one another.  One grabbed the phone, the other grabbed my arm and pulled me.

“The gate is down here,” and she ran with me, my sister right behind us.

The gate was, in fact, a long fucking way away.  Miles, it seemed.  WTF?

We got there just as they had clicked the landing tunnel back into place.  They opened the door and we ran down it to the plane.

US Airways had brought the plane back so I could get to my mother’s funeral.

Google

Google

As Beth and I moved down the aisle, I was still trying to catch my breath, still trying to stop crying.

Heads were turning, as the other passengers were trying to figure out just who we were, and why we were important enough to bring the plane back for.  (And now doubt that if we were so damn important, why were we in coach.”

But another problem emerged.  Someone was in my seat.

There were dozens of seats on the plane.  But in my rather frantic state, I wanted my seat.

“There are lots of seats, Lease,” said Beth.  “Here, we can sit here.  Or here.”

But I made the person move.

Beth sat next to me as I shook and wept the whole trip.  “We nearly missed Mom’s funeral,” I said, again and again.

“It’s OK, Lease,” she’d say, shaking her head.  “We made it.”

***

I never got the names of the two US Airways desk clerks who helped us.  I did write an incredibly nice letter to the company, though, giving times and flight numbers in the hopes that they learned how much their kindness meant to me.

I’ve always been amazed that a big company, which no doubt faces things like this every day, would demonstrate such kindness.

But Beth said they just wanted to shut me up.  And you know, she may have been right.

74 Comments

Filed under Adult Traumas, Bat-shit crazy, Crazy family members, Family, Friends, Good Deed Doers, Huh?, Humiliation, Humor, Love, Missing Folks, Mom, Mom would die of embarrassment, Most Embarassing Moments Evah!, Oh shit, Sisters, Taking Care of Each Other, Travel Stories, US Airways, Why the hell do I tell you these stories?, Wild Beasts, WTF?

74 responses to “Customer Service

  1. Aww, hugs to you then and now ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. julie

    OMG Elyse! I don’t even know where to start! What a ride that was! (I’ve been away too long) You just ripped my heart out while making it hard to breath! First the boy followed by the story of the heartache of the loss of your mom? Sheesh!

    I had a close friend who worked for an airlines in the airport. The biggest lesson she learned was to tread carefully, you never know what the person you”re dealing with might be dealing with.

    I’ve missed you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Julie! Nice to see you!

      I think the lesson your friend learned is one we should always remember. People face so many different calamities in life — and mostly we don’t know who is facing one at any moment. It’s best to cut folks a break.

      But I remain astonished that they brought the plane back. That’s a BIG break!

      Like

  3. Why is the gate you need always several football field lengths away? I mean, really? Always? I can barely run without schlepping carry-ons and all that emotional baggage! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am really glad that you and Beth did not miss that plane, Elyse. A very belated thanks to those thoughtful gate-workers who called back a whole plane to ease the suffering of a woman in distress. Airports can be very stressful, yes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wasn’t it wonderful of them to do that? I’m told that post 9-11 this would never happen, and that’s probably true. We lost a lot of our humanity that day.

      One of the funny things is that my brother arrived later that day. Later than we expected him. Because he’d missed his flight. When I told him my saga, he screwed up his face in the way of all big brothers and said, “Lease, there’s always another flight.” But I got the better story out of it (and a very refreshing view of US Airways).

      Like

  5. Wow. That’s an amazing story. Not sure if they’d do that post-9/11 but you never know. Maybe they would.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s actually one of my favorite stories. So redeeming!

      I’m pretty sure no airline would do it any more — we lost a lot of our humanity along with those towers.

      Like

  6. I actually teared up reading that story. As someone in customer service (food service specifically), the ability to truly help someone in need can be a rare occurrence. I’m glad that US Airways rose to the challenge when presented with the opportunity to really make a difference for someone in need.

    This is Brantley from the Brantley Blog, by the way. Hope all is well with you! I wanted to reconnect since you were one of my followers. I’m working on a new blog now called The Story in the Frame. It’s an artistic collaboration between myself and my girlfriend (a photographer). I write short stories about her photos. Please check us out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just got back from checking out your blog — and I clicked follow. what a terrific idea for a blog — great writing and great photos!

      I’ve been away from my computer for a week and have nearly 600 blogs to catch up on … but I look forward to reading more of your stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. US Airways must have known … It’s The Queen! … Hi Elsye.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. And why do they have to call them ‘terminals’???

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Those people on the front lines can make or break a company. Perhaps, if that airline had more employees like the two that handled your situation they would still be flying under the same name. Customer service is fading out of existence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I agree, Michelle. It is astonishing how the adage I was taught was “the customer is always right” is no longer anyone’s moto. Sad. Because people always appreciate good service.

      US Airways actually bought out American, but kept the American name… So they’re still in business. But I bet they don’t bring back planes for hysterical women any more!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Loved this story so much, Elyse. There ARE actually considerate, compassionate people in this world! And they worked for an airline!

    I read this earlier today but couldn’t comment (I was on my damned iPhone and I’m blind at a bat so typing a comment would’ve taken me years)
    What a touching thing for them to do on such a terrible day.

    I remember when my dad suddenly died and I had to fly back home from Seattle by myself. To this day, I remember how kind everyone on the flight was to me. I was crying just about nonstop and apologizing to everyone for my sobbing (really, I was a hysterical mess trying my hardest to keep it together and not wail) and I remember one flight attendant consoling me. She brought me a pillow and a blanket and told me I could cry all I wanted, it was okay. Nowadays I probably would have been kicked off the plane.

    You don’t forget things like that, the kindness of strangers when you’re experiencing one of the worst days of your life. Or, like you said, maybe they were just trying to get me to shut up. Ha!

    Best wishes to your son and save travels to him.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What they did for you? It is actually very unusual. I sat here reading and in awe that your sup-sups had this power. What an incredibly kind and compassionate thing. Even before TSA took over and made flying a nightmare it was rare (yes I have been flying that long), so I am impressed with the power of your sup-sup.

    As for your son, he will obviously be fine. He has a wonderful upbringing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My “sup-sups” are a rarely used but powerful force. My husband once bought me a house in France to stop them.

      Jacob will be fine. After a wonderful trip, he is now (I hope!) heading to the airport for the return home.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. First of all, I get it with your kid flying for the first time and being a helicopter mom about the event. I had my daughter so stressed out (she was a grown woman) with all my instructions and texts, she almost had a heart attack! We still laugh about it. As to the airport changing the gate and not alerting the passengers, that has happened to me too many times to count. I never, ever, ever leave that gate once I find it and constantly check. And finally, this is a nice reminder that sometimes the airlines can do the right thing, especially after the story of a snippy steward throwing a woman off American Airlines for not moving fast enough (she didn’t hear him). The entire plane booed the steward.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, I kept my advice to a minimum — my husband is a much worse helicopter parent than I am. So I get to look like the laid-back one, knowing that John told Jacob everything 438 times!

      In this case, they DIDN’T change the gate. I just stupidly thought that they would be calling the flight from the desk outside the restaurant — the gate (where we should have been parking our butts) was miles away. The whole error was mine (ours. I’ll blame Beth, too. Because why not?!)

      But yes. It was amazing that they showed so much compassion. I don’t fly often, but I used US Airways whenever I could.

      Like

  13. I love how you can feel your son rolling his eyes from miles away, just another super power we have in common.
    Everyone needs a Beth in their life! A nice calm cucumber, who was most likely giving everyone the “I have no idea what’s wrong with her face” behind your back as the sup-sups took over and got the job done. (sup-sups is my new favorite description)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You can probably hear sarcasm that hasn’t yet been spoken too, I’ll bet!

      Beth was always good at calming me down well not this time, but usually.

      And that term was coined my other sister, Judy. She also referred to being sick at both ends as “the whoops and the trots”!

      Like

  14. That’s a lovely story. Did you post it today because USAir is going out of business? They’re being absorbed by American this weekend. That means there are now just for airlines in the US. That’s right. FOUR.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I was prepared to be amused by the story of your son and his flight. Instead I am still wiping my eyes. Too many reasons to list… Yes, too many…

    My son flew to Utah yesterday, and probably out of the country today. We won’t know where he is a lot of the time, from now on. He is an Air Force pilot, just beginning his flying career.

    Too many reasons. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my. Well let me wish your son the best of luck. May he run into far more helpful folks than the other kind in his travels. And for you, I hope you can keep your worrying to Avery manageable level!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. The commercial airplane business has to be a drag. The pace is frenetic and the customers generally anxious about seating, baggage and schedule, so I imagine the staff people can quickly get hardened to the usual concerns. But when there’s an unusual and genuine case, as in yours, I can see it would be an opportunity to feel good about one’s job, that they could make a lasting difference in someone’s life. Clearly this was the case in your situation. Great story, Elise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve always thought that about the restaurant business, too. Hungry people = crabby people.

      The story still makes me smile. As it turned out, my brother missed his flight, too. He calmly said “there’s always another flight …” CALMLY!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. No, you’re right. Even big companies are made up of ordinary people who can show their humanity occasionally. This made me tear-up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too – I couldn’t believe (and still can’t) that they did this for me (Beth was completely poised). Still, it DID have the added benefit of getting rid of the hysterical woman in the middle of the terminal.

      X pointed out that yesterday was US Airways last flight (under that name). What an amazing coincidence that I plopped out that story on that day!

      Like

  18. That’s such a lovely story. It always amazes me when companies don’t realise what a huge difference those little experiences of good or bad customer service make – not simply for that moment, but the knock on effect – it can make the difference between whether we choose to use or avoid that company for years to come, and we also tell the stories to others who may also be influenced that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s true. I flew that airline whenever I could (although I don’t travel much). And these days with instant reviews of everything, the right attitude makes all the difference.

      Like

  19. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, but today US Airways is flying its last flight.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. This doesn’t change my opinion of airlines one iota. I think they are still the most bold-face liars and least consumer friendly of any industry or business. Still, that was an amazing act of compassion on the part of those US Airways staff. Unheard of! How fortunate you were.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Just perfectly awesome. It always warms my heart when people do something as beautiful as that. There are really quite a few nice people in our world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it a great story? I still get choked up thinking about it.

      There really are nice people in the world — we should applaud this type of behavior more often, though.

      Like

  22. Paul

    Quite often it is the decision of an individual to help a customer. Corporations are cold and heartless. It would have been the gate agents and pilot who decided to help. As an opposite example we have a huge coffee chain here in Canada called Tim Hortons. They cater to families and have over 3,000 stores. Last year one of their employees gave a little girl who was upset , a donut hole to calm her down – retail cost 10 cents (wholesale cost about 1 penny) and the company fired her for her kindness. There was a huge blow back that did all kinds of damage to Tim’s reputation and in the end they apologized, gave the person their job back along with a promotion. They changed the policy and allowed employees to gift small amounts to customers for customer satisfaction purposes.That s what companies do.

    It was very heart warming that US Airways personnel helped you like that. I would hope they would do that again for you. I am always surprised when a company cuts me a break. I don’t walk very well and was just coming up to a bus stop on a cross street when the bus came. I couldn’t get over to the stop in time and the driver stopped just across the intersection and waited for we to gimp over- he was so kind and I thanked him. Another time I was travelling by ferry from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia and had put my truck on the ferry but had business on the dock(I had a commercial fuel account to settle). I came out onto the dock 5 minutes before the scheduled leave time to find the ferry had left – with my truck on it. I ran to the control room and they notified the ferry – the Captain chose to come back to the dock to pick me up.This is a huge ferry – holds about 100 tractor-trailers and hundreds of cars. When I had gotten settled in my room and cleaned up, I went up to the bridge to thank the Captain. He was cool and said he apologized for leaving early. Then he said :” We only burned 4 tons of bunker coming back to get you, so it was fine.” Yikes! Four tons of fuel to pick up little me. Whew!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh I love your story (like that’s new and different. I love ALL your stories). Thank Goodnesss for the warmhearted among us! And you’re right that it is the individuals, not the corporations that do this sort of thing. But, unlike Tim Horton’s a company needs to let their employees do it. It would be hard to bring back a jet without some level of approval!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Few things motivate me more than a sobbing woman. It’s a very powerful weapon that women have.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. If they had just wanted you to shut up, they would have had security escort you to a private room somewhere. I think the US Airways people understood your pain and truly wanted to help. Fortunately, the plan hadn’t actually taken flight yet – I don’t think they would have called it back then.

    Like

    • You’re probably right. There were other ways to shut me up — but Beth couldn’t help laughing at me about it. I was rather hysterical and after all, there WERE other planes!

      But I do think they wanted to help — they did in fact. And I will always remember that incredible kindness.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Wow, that is great customer service! I wonder if they would still do that today? Recently I missed a connecting flight by 2 minutes because the first flight was late. The flight attendants told us they were holding the plane for us, the let us off first, the had an airport cart waiting to drive us to the next gate, and we hustled. As we got to the hate, they just closed the doors and wouldn’t re-open them. The plane hadn’t even left the gate! No one was waiting for us… It was the last flight of the night and they wouldn’t even pay for a hotel for the night!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t fly much any more, but I think that because of post 9-11 security, they couldn’t/wouldn’t do this. There are standards and protocols that can’t be avoided. Sucks, really.

      Your experience sounds awful — like when the elevator doors close on you — TIMES A Million!

      Liked by 1 person

  26. That’s so cool they did that for you, but nowadays I bet they couldn’t. They don’t even let you board if the plane is still there but they’ve closed the doors. Security measures since 9/11 I guess. Safe travels to your son!

    Liked by 2 people

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