Southwest Pilot Holds Flight for Grieving Grandfather

January 19, 2011
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imageMy family loves to fly Southwest Airlines any chance we can. Their fares are always low, the flight attendance are friendly, and their customer service is top notch. This article is just another example.

A Southwest Airlines pilot has been in the news during the past week after he held a flight from Los Angeles for 12 minutes — just enough time to allow a grieving grandfather to catch the flight in an effort to see his dying grandson in Colorado.

The boy — 2 year-old — Caden Rogers — died, but grandfather Mark Dickinson was able to complete his connecting itinerary and arrive in Colorado before the boy’s death.

But, according to a growing number of media accounts, Dickinson had to overcome numerous obstacles to make that happen.

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From the very beginning, ABC News writes “security officials at the Los Angeles Airport did not believe Dickinson when he asked to be moved further up in a long slow-moving security line because he was hoping to make the flight and find his grandson still alive.”

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to make my flight’. I didn’t know when I was going to get the next one. I resigned myself to the fact that it was my fault,” Dickinson is quoted as saying by ABC News.

But, in the meantime, wife Nancy Dickinson had decided to call the airline to see if there was any way Southwest could hold the flight — possibly her husband’s final chance to make it to Colorado in time.

Christopher Elliott first reported the story on his travel blog Elliott.org, quoting an e-mail from Nancy.

She tells Elliott that when her husband finally arrived at the gate, both “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.’ “

Nancy continued to Elliott:

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.”

The Dickinsons have since extended their thanks to Southwest for the airline’s assistance in getting Mark to Colorado, according to The Mercury News of San Jose, Calif.

As for Southwest, Marilee McInnis tells the paper: “We empower our employees to make decisions on behalf of our customer. While we can’t wait for every late customer we knew he had an extreme family emergency and the pilot specifically decided to wait.”

“As you’re reading the story, you absolutely get tears in your eyes and just an overwhelming sense of pride that our pilot took such an action,” McInnis continues to CNN. “It really makes you proud to work for Southwest.”

The story has gained an increasing amount of attention since it first broke on Elliott’s blog on Jan. 10.

The Airline Biz blog of The Dallas Morning News adds perspective, writing “that simple act of kindness, first reported by travel writer Christopher Elliott on his blog, has generated enormous publicity for Southwest and the pilot, as the story has gone across the country and around the world.”

Indeed, the story has been picked up by news outlets spanning the spectrum of media — ranging from the Mirror in London to The Australian in Sydney to a number of other non-English publications across the globe. Even Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton — known more for stirring the pot on celebrity controversies — has jumped on the story.

Tempering the news, however, the Airline Biz blog points out “the death itself was very sad. Police allege the two-year-old was fatally injured when his mother’s boyfriend threw him across the room.”

But, for Dickinson, KWTX TV of Texas says he at least “got to Denver in time to say goodbye to his grandson and to be with his daughter.”

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