My mother-in-law has been visiting us from her home in Palm Springs, California since last week. Over the past few days we’ve shopped and bar-b-qued and gone wine tasting and generally had a wonderful time, and Nana has treated us to some wonderful and very detailed stories about her past.
All this time, we thought Nana’s return flight to California was scheduled for tomorrow, but when I got home from work today, Tom told me that it had actually been scheduled for this morning and his mom was quite upset by the confusion.
Not to worry, I assured them, and I got on the phone and the Internet simultaneously in an effort to get Nana on a flight tomorrow morning.
My first call was to Alaska Airlines customer service. Not sure who I spoke to then. She wasn’t particularly unpleasant, but she wasn’t all that helpful or compassionate, either. “Ma’am,” she said, after I’d been on hold for 20 minutes, “I can book your mother-in-law on the same flight tomorrow, but you’ll need to act quickly, as it’s 90% full now. The difference in cost for the trip is $80 and the change fee is $100,” she informed me, with absolutely no emotion – no friendliness, no compassion, no warmth – in her voice. She wasn't rude or unfriendly, either. She was just...well, void of expression.
“Excuuuuuse me?! $180 for missing a flight? How much is a new one-way flight?” I asked
Of course. Make the fee just a tad under the cost of booking a new flight. Brilliant.
I told the operator that we’d call back, then I hung up, and immediately searched the Internet for a new one-way fare for under $180.
I couldn’t find a single flight at that price for tomorrow. Even Priceline’s name-your-fare couldn’t help with a one-way ticket.
“Just book the flight,” Nana said, her head in her hands and, it seemed, close to tears.
So I called Alaska Airlines back, Nana’s Gold Mastercard in hand. Her fixed income Gold Mastercard. Her how-could-I-have-overlooked-this Gold Mastercard. I felt awful for her.
After a short time on hold, Elaine at Alaska Airlines Customer Service answered the phone. She greeted me warmly and asked how she could help me. I told her that my mother-in-law had missed her flight back home today and that we were hoping she might be able to help us.
“I’d sure like to help someone today,” she said. “I just hung up with a young man who I couldn’t help at all and it’s bothering me. A lot.”
She told me about a developmentally challenged man who called her from Hawaii with a ticket on a Delta flight, reserved on Expedia. Once he realized he’d missed his flight, he called Delta, who informed him that it’d cost him $1,100 to get home!
I don’t know exactly how or why, but somehow this man then got a hold of Elaine, an Alaska Airlines agent who, of course, couldn’t access any of the man’s information. But Elaine felt compassion for this man who was obviously not only developmentally challenged, but also had no money and was very scared and confused.
Elaine called the Delta ticket agent and airline reservation agent to airline reservation agent, asked her to help this man out by waiving fees, finding him a cheap flight, or somehow helping him to get home without breaking him.
No can do, the Delta agent said. $1,100 is what it’ll cost for the guy to get home. She wouldn’t budge… and Elaine was helpless to do anything except, I assume, offer him an Alaska ticket.
I was Elaine’s next call and she seemed genuinely upset about her inability to help this young man.
She looked up Nana’s information and said to me, “I see she’s in a wheelchair. Let’s see what we can do.” As she worked, we talked about her father who had recently died and bequeathed to her his beautiful cane. We talked about how kind people can be, helping those using canes (or, I reminded her, crutches and knee walkers!), and we talked about the blessings of family visits.
“Alrighty!” Elaine then announced after a few moments. “You’re all set! Your mother-in-law should be at the airport at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Wish her a pleasant flight for me.”
Gold Mastercard in hand, I asked Elaine what the fee would be, knowing that it was officially $80 for the difference in cost and $100 change fee.
“Nothing,” Elaine said. “I’m just glad I was finally able to make a difference today. I was afraid the day would end without me being able to really help someone in need.”
“Elaine…” I said, not sure what to say. “May angels land on your shoulder and stay with you all day,” I said. Where did that come from? I never talk about angels!
But that’s what Elaine has been today – a real angel! Thank you, Elaine! Alaska Airlines must give “permission” for angelic behavior from their agents, so thank you Alaska Airlines, as well!