Thursday, May 13, 2010

Like a Sack of Bricks

So... Anyone who knows me knows my allegiance to both Hilton Hotels and Continental Airlines. Continental, in particular, I feel a corporate connection to, and almost ownership of, that is inexplicable.

"People make a company" is true in any industry, but with how commoditized air travel has become, it's particularly true in this field: Lots of people are flying rock-hard seats in metal tubes through the air at a few hundred miles per hour, but the level of service along the way is wildly different -- ranging from Delta, who despite having some 200,000 miles banked you couldn't pay me enough to fly them again*, to the middle of the road Southwest and American, to Continental where I really feel like my business is valued and I'm treated as an individual, not just a random confirmation number.

I make a point to thank everyone that helps me on my journeys--from check-in to the gate, to the flight attendants, and if possible the pilots, all of them go a long way toward making spending a couple hours on rock hard seats in a metal tube not merely tolerable but usually rather pleasant.

For the past few years, around the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) I've made a point of handing every Continental employee I crossed paths with a printed "Thank You" card, expressing my gratitude for their help in getting me from Point A to Point B during the preceding year. I felt a little goofy doing it, and wondered how many people actually read the cards or if the gesture was appreciated, but on the same note given how trite the verbalized "Thank You" has become in modern usage I thought something more substantial was warranted to express my true gratitude.

Today, I received an email from the spouse of a Continental employee who has recently passed away: Apparently my card has been in his backpack and lifted his spirits on overwhelming days; she found it while going through his things.

That would have been touching on its own, but, what particularly hit home is I remember her husband quite well: I needed to be in Grand Rapids immediately following a need to be in Richmond, so my trip was booked Cleveland-Richmond; Richmond-Grand Rapids (with a 45 minute stop in Cleveland); Grand Rapids-Cleveland. That day there was some weather and the flight from Richmond to Cleveland was going to be delayed long enough for my connection to be in jeopardy.

I had to be in Grand Rapids the next day. Greg went above and beyond to get me reaccommodated on to a Northwest flight that was leaving in 20 minutes to Detroit and then on to Grand Rapids--saving a delicate relationship with one of my clients, and keeping my sanity in check. Now he didn't have to do that since it was a different airline and at that point the "official" delay left about 2 minutes to spare, but he understood my concern, saw that that was the best way to handle it and expertly executed the change--even including making sure my luggage made it to the new flights. I thanked him profusely, and handed him one of my Thank You cards while turning and running for my new flight.

In the time since then, I've flown through Richmond a few more times--one of my favorite clients has their Capitol there--each time keeping an eye out for Greg wanting to thank him again in person. I never saw him again (such is the life of travel: Every human relationship is by definition transitory). I've used the example of his assistance as one of the reasons why I won't fly anyone other than Continental.

Today I found out he appreciated the note. And that he passed away last month.
It kind of hit me like a sack of bricks.

It almost seems fitting for this to be my last post of being 25, standing on the threshold of 26 and the year ahead.

Say Thank You--mean Thank You.


*- They lost my luggage. Then a supervisor literally screamed at me and accused me of lying including the phrase "my airline doesn't loose luggage". Recently they managed to loose an entire dog... and then only offered a a $200 voucher for future Delta travel.

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