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September 2, 2014

The Quality That Can’t Be Taught

It was 4:40 a.m. and pouring down rain. I stood in the lobby of the Hampton Inn and tried to focus my mind on anything besides the stabbing hunger pangs in my stomach as I waited for the airport shuttle....

It was 4:40 a.m. and pouring down rain. I stood in the lobby of the Hampton Inn and tried to focus my mind on anything besides the stabbing hunger pangs in my stomach as I waited for the airport shuttle.

Since I had been speaking until late the night before, I hadn’t eaten in almost 12 hours. That would be tough for anyone, but when you’re in your second trimester of pregnancy like I am, you’re hungry all the time.

As I stood there in the lobby, waiting, I reminded myself that everything would be okay because I would get food as soon as I got to the airport.

Then I got a text: “Your flight has been delayed from 6 a.m. to 7:45 a.m.”

I went back up to my room, crawled into bed, and set my alarm for the 6 a.m. airport shuttle. I lay there trying to sleep but the shooting pains in my stomach wouldn’t let me relax. My body was demanding that I eat but I just kept telling myself, When I get to the airport, I’ll get food and everything will be okay.

Finally, I drifted off.

I’m not sure how it happened, but the next thing I knew it was five minutes until 7 a.m. I shot out of bed, my heart pounding out of my chest, and threw on my hat and shoes. I bolted downstairs to catch the 7 a.m. shuttle.

When I got to the airport and through security, I arrived at my gate to find everyone already boarding. I had missed my boarding group, but that didn’t matter because I made it.

I got on the plane and sat down, trying to take a deep breath and calm my nerves. I prayed in that moment, “God, thank you for getting me on this plane.” And I felt God speak these words to me immediately, “I’m going to take care of you.” I fought back the tears and smiled at the truth in those words.

But as my nerves settled and my breathing slowed, another sensation took over: hunger. It was a deep, consuming, blinding, painful hunger. In my rush to the airport, I hadn’t had time to grab food. And with a two-hour flight ahead of me, that meant 16 hours without food!

I grabbed the in-flight menu to see what I could purchase beyond the free peanuts and pretzels. There was nothing. My only hope at this point was to beg the Southwest flight attendant to give me 15 bags of pretzels.

I waited until everyone boarded. The pangs continued. I waited until we took off. Nausea had set in and I started to feel dizzy. I waited until we got to 10,000 feet and then the flight attendant finally came by my row.

“I am so sorry to bother you, but I overslept, didn’t get to eat and I’m pregnant,” I said. “Can I have as many pretzels as you can allow? I’m just starving.”

What she said next brings tears to my eyes even now.

“I have a sausage and egg biscuit. Would you like that?” she asked. “Let me go get that for you.”

I nodded, unable to speak, as she walked to the front of the plane and returned with breakfast—her breakfast. It was a warm sausage and egg biscuit from Au Bon Pain and a can of apple juice.

I knew the polite thing would have been to decline, but I couldn’t. I was desperate. I ate her breakfast as tears streamed down my face and onto my tray table.

God’s words rang in my ears again: “I’m going to take care of you.” I will never forget that moment when God showed up in the form of a Southwest flight attendant—when a complete stranger cared.

There’s no company policy that prepares someone for serving a ravenous pregnant woman on a plane. It’s an act of service that can’t be trained by a leader or taught in an employee handbook.

You can be the most inspirational leader in the world and have the most motivational mission around, but you can’t make someone else care. People care (or don’t care) because of who they are.

So regardless of what type of business you’re in or in what capacity you lead, your best asset will always be people around you who genuinely care about their work, their coworkers and their customers. Of course, you want to hire competent, skilled team members who are high-performing individuals. But above all else, you want to hire people who care.

***

Update 9/4: After my husband wrote a letter to Southwest thanking them and her, and this story posted online and spread like wildfire, Southwest reached out to me on Twitter to find out more information to celebrate her.

Update 9/11: The flight attendant, Allyson, was on my flight home from Baltimore! I let her know we wrote Southwest in hopes that they would recognize her and I also got to thank her again and share this blog with her!

Update 12/17: Southwest is doing a story on Allyson to celebrate her and we shot the video this week!

Update 6/9/15: Southwest posted the video celebrating her on their blog!

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Leave a Comment

  1. Diane Brown says:

    What a special moment between you, God, and the sweet angel on earth! This also strikes inspiration in all of us to act on opportunities to be kind and caring like she so sweetly did!

  2. Wow! What an example of leadership without a title. You had me hooked all the way to the end!

    I am writing a leadership coaching program that will launch soon. Yours is just the kind of case study I could quote in “Module 6: Serve it Forward: A heart that gives”

    Still shaking my head in sheer wonderment…

    1. Kathleen says:

      Yes, I agree with Lindsey. My husband has worked for SWA for 31 years. They DO get these commendations put in their files. There are a lot of wonderful people working for this company. And yes, there are a lot of angels in plain clothes caring and helping others. Great story. And next we’ll hear about your new little angel……

  3. Jeff says:

    That is a great story but also exemplifies the type of attendants Southwest has. It is a great story but, happily, not really unique with SWA.

  4. Yvonne says:

    As a International Flight Attendant for a Major carrier.. Most of the crews I fly with are VERY caring people and would do that. We care deeply for our passengers and happy that someone is documenting this online instead of the negativity and thank you for that. I have seen many flight attendants give money to new hires out of the goodness of their heart as they don’t make very much when they first start out. We take care of each other doesn’t matter what airline we work for. Congratulations on your new bundle of Joy… <3

      1. Chug says:

        Because the breakfasts aren’t set out at 4:40 am (the first time she was up), and the second time she got up she barely had enough time to dash to the shuttle, nevermind grabbing something from the buffet.

  5. DK says:

    I have worked at an airport for over a decade. I see this sort of caring from time to time from the employees of the various airlines but it happens on a consistent basis with Southwest.

    I don’t work for them but I wouldn’t mind it if I did. When the flight attendants of other airlines are cranky and snarly after a long series of flights, the ones from Southwest still go out of their way to be pleasant and kind. The golden rule must be worked into their company motto somewhere.

    1. Brenda says:

      DK, we can thank Herb and Colleen for instilling the Golden Rule into the employees at Southwest. I am a 20 year employee and I am very thankful for the Company I work for. The Golden Rule is a huge part of our culture. 🙂

  6. Christine says:

    I once had a flight attendant take my sick crying infant from my arms in the most polite, loving and caring way only to put her right to sleep and put a smile on everyone’s face on that plane. But none were as big as mine! She was not feeling horrible but needed to nap and I gave her medicine but it was the bottom of the barrel and wasn’t a full dose which just made her incredibly irritable. That attendant could see my horror no doubt as my baby fussed and squirmed and I tried everything. A sweet stranger did the trick! She handed her back with a smile and she slept the entire flight! What a blessing she was.

  7. Jeff B says:

    great story, but if you are pregnant, bring cracker, nuts anything. You could have been delayed even longer, but why didn’t she eat at the hotel instead of going back to bed?

    1. Vonnie says:

      Hampton Inn does not offer room service and there may not have been anything open that early. She probably did not have a rental car to go get something and one thing you do not to do, especially if you are a woman, is go walking around an unfamiliar area looking for a 7-11 at 4:40 am! I have stayed at many Hampton Inns and while the hotels themselves are usually okay, they are sometimes in rather questionable areas.

      That said, some (but maybe not all) HIs do sell snacks for an exorbitant amount, but it would have been something. Perhaps she didn’t know about it or they didn’t offer that service. She will probably carry snacks in her purse from now on! 🙂

  8. Mary O says:

    Wonderful story of true human kindness. I hope you let her employer know of her act of kindness, going above and beyond what would be expected of her. Unfortunately there are not enough stories like this around.
    And next time you are at a Hampton and checking out before they set up the breakfast bar, feel free to ask the desk clerk if she could perhaps get you something from the kitchen. There are very few guests about that early so they usually have lots of time on their hands. I was the breakfast lady for a while and whoever was on front desk duty also set up the breakfast before I even arrived. Not all Hamptons offer the same but, my Hampton at least, would have brought you sweet breads, boiled eggs, fresh fruit or mixed fruit, cereal (hot or cold), milk, juice, etc.

  9. Deborah says:

    I too have no problem helping others. I have been helped when my children were small and now I am able to pay it forward. Gods love is what we should show to all every.day.Who knows when you may be entertaining angels

  10. SWALUV says:

    Amazing story! I start my career with Southwest this month and it’s stories like these that brought me to Southwest Airlines. I cannot wait to be apart of the family!

  11. Claire says:

    This is so refreshing to read. I am an educator and have been told, too often, that I care too much. I have shared food with children, let them use my cell phone to call home, etc and have been put down for these choices. Yet, I could not stop caring. We humans are supposed to care. That flight attendant demonstrated her character – an exceptional character. God took care of you…thank you for sharing.

    1. Stacie Bundy says:

      You can never care too much. Stay the course. I’m sure you are but know that there are people who do appreciate your efforts so “stay the course” and may Od bless your efforts. Stacie Bundy

  12. Laura says:

    Following the third surgery my son had for a brachial plexus injury, we were traveling from Houston back to our home in Alabama… My son was in a very complicated brace which made our seating arrangements even more complicated. The steward from Southwest went above and beyond to accommodate the needs of my child. There is far more to the story than what I can share here. Needless to say, I wrote a lengthy letter of commendation to the management naming this fine young man from the airline. His kindness helped this mom through a very difficult day.

    1. mary says:

      First of all God was saying I’ll take care of my child that is growing inside of you. Second of all why would anyone deny a unborn child food. If your pregnant and you know your going to need to feed your unborn child why would you deprive your self food.!. If I was in that much pain..I would have missed the flight to eat so that my unborn child could eat…I have 4 children so yes I can say it.

      1. PJ says:

        Mary,
        Please can I humbly ask you not to bite other sheep…Ezekiel 34 talks about us biting each other and it isn’t what God has in mind for his kids to be doing to each other. When God told her He was going to take care of her He didn’t stutter or leave a part out, He said I will take care of you….He meant mom – baby is going to get nourishment regardless. Baby will take what they need from mom which is one of the reasons mom gets so hungry…baby is grabbing what they need regardless if mom has been able to get nourishment for herself. When God provided for mom baby benefited too, but mom was who God was speaking to and not in a condemning way. God is so good and is so extravagant! He knows when we get busy, tired, lack funds, or when we have come to a place where we just need a bit of divine intervention, He doesn’t hold blessings out with strings attached He simply blesses His kids! How AWESOME is that?! I did not work for SWA but I know their people are extraordinary! I was a flight attendant and you would not believe how many people find themselves in a predicament much like Christy did! Some of us really do care and as you witnessed, we will even offer our own food for your comfort. God has a funny way of asking us to give at times and then at others He has an incredibly humbling and beautiful way of providing! Christy, may God continue to favor you and to reveal His extravagance to you so that you can continue to encourage others with these faith building stories! Shalom!

  13. Robin says:

    Loved this post. I have had lots of great customer support from Southwest as well. I referenced this post on one I just made. Thanks for sharing.

  14. greg zorbach says:

    I retired 2 years ago after 15 years as a pilot at Southwest. It took me two tries to get hired since my last two tours in the Navy did not involve operational flying. After short tenures with other airlines to gain the necessary currency I was successful the second time. In neither interview was I asked a technical aviation question. Several judgment scenarios/questions were asked each time, but nothing about aircraft systems on the Navy planes I had flown or even about FAA regulations. Five years after coming aboard, I was back in Dallas for Captain upgrade training and discovered during that extended stay at the Training Center that they had added a basic simulator (actually just a small cockpit mockup in the back of a classroom) session to the interview process. I asked why the departure from previous procedures. The answer was that the cockpit session was not really a departure. They wanted to introduce a stress environment for some of those judgment scenarios to see if the personality of the candidate remained constant. As explained to me: they trust their vetting process to ensure that candidates invited to interviews are technically and physically qualified for the job. They want to be certain that the prospective employee will be the right person, who happens to be a qualified pilot. That’s a paraphrase of Southwest’s founder, Herb Kelleher: “We’re a customer service company that happens to fly airplanes.” Everyone is infused with that from day one. As Tom Peters put it in his Forward to “Nuts”: “What I discovered was an organization that dares to unleash the imagination and energy of its people.” Each employee was given a copy of that book. The motto of the company when I was hired was “Do the right thing.” The monthly employee magazine always included a short section with letters from customers documenting experiences like yours. The ones that had me slowing down my reading pace were the ones about those travelling to dying or recently passed family members.

  15. Tricia says:

    God knew He could count on that flight attendant to respond when He urged her to give up her breakfast – I need to listen to Him more carefully so He can count on me, too.

  16. Susie says:

    I have a great story regarding Southwest also. My husband and I were at a Florida airport when in the corner there was this oasis of a waterfall and trees. There was no one over there and with the hectic process of flying I wanted to go over to the window and take a look and a deep breath before catching our next flight. I walked over to this huge bank of windows and I looked down for some reason. There was someone’s Driver License sitting there in the corner of the window pane. I picked it up and walked back over to my husband. I said, OMG someone is traveling and lost their id how are they going to get thru security to get home or rent a car? So we walked over to the closet counter which turned out to be Southwest. I told the agent behind the counter where I found this id. She said “OGM this lady was just here crying so hard because she couldn’t find her id anywhere.” So as she paged the customer, I walked down the hall. I heard her announce the lady’s name over the loudspeaker and saw her run over to the counter to retrieve it. She was crying with tears of joy that someone found it. I was waiting for my husband to get out of the restroom and the Southwest agent came running towards me. She said “Come back to the counter with me!” So I waited for my husband and we walked back down to the Southwest counter. The agent gave both my husband and I a $50 gift certificate to use on a future flight. How nice was that? I wasn’t expecting anything in return I was just thinking about the traveler who was suck in an airport without her id. Southwest is AWESOME!! We always fly them because they are the best airline and have the most caring customer service agents. They also have the best and easiest rewards program and cancellation policy. We love Southwest and I am a Travel Agent!!!!

  17. Krystal says:

    Thank you soo much for sharing. This is truly what Southwest is about. I have the pleasure of working for this incredible company and soon I hope to go inflight as well to make a difference as she did for you. Thank you for sharing your experience and recognizing when someone went above and beyond.

  18. Ally says:

    I just celebrated my 17 year anniversary today with this wonderful company Southwest Airlines! I LUV to hear these stories, thank you for sharing! and God will always take care of us, so glad you heard His voice that day, must have given you extra comfort!

  19. Tibor says:

    Awesome story of compassion and Gods provision. I don’t mean to be be rude, but doesn’t the. Hampton Inn have a continental breakfast? 🙂

  20. Brian Kimball says:

    Christi Wright,
    Thank you for the wonderful story and I’m soooo glad you were taken care of. I am a proud pilot of Southwest Airlines and it was our own Colleen Barret whom has instilled in us the Servant attitude and the Culture of Southwest.
    Our company takes great pride in rewarding those who carry on our long lasting tradition. If you could please email me your flight itinerary and I will see that crew gets the proper credit.
    Thank you for the wonderful blog!

    Brian

  21. Tiffany says:

    This is a wonderful story, but the suggestion that this is a characteristic that can’t be taught troubles me. Show people love and most of them will respond by showing the same to others, even if it takes some time to get there. We’d all be in a lot of trouble if that weren’t true, or if we believed there was no point in leading by example in that arena.

  22. Matt says:

    I’m curious about something. I presume you had checked out of your hotel room before going out for the shuttle at 4:40 AM. How, then, were you able to go back to bed after you learned the flight was delayed?

  23. Ana Nelson says:

    What a story!!! Was in tears reading it.
    You always have to think about someone else, believe in the Golden Rule. “Do unto others what you want done unto you”
    Love your story and hope your baby is ok.

  24. Loren says:

    I think the word ‘care’ is more meaningful when used as a verb than a noun, so I really liked your story. There is definitely an art form in living for those who want make the most out of it, and that flight attendant was an artist that day. God often loves and cares for His children through us, just as He cared for you through that flight attendant. Wonderful story.

  25. Great story! I believe in this message and as a side note- I believe in Southwest! They are my favorite airline!

  26. Edith Tadlock says:

    Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt story! That just shows us that God will take care of us if we just trust him ! The out come is always better than what we expect !

  27. Ron says:

    Though like you, I am a person of faith, this lesson holds true regardless. Even in the workplace, people don’t CARE how much you KNOW, until they KNOW how much you CARE.

  28. Thank you Christy. It’s remarkable how much organizations will pay to get the attention of the marketplace … when all they need to do is behave in a way that’s worthy of the attention of the marketplace.

  29. Amazing service and caring by a southwest employee. I once had a flight on Southwest from Sacramento to Orlando FL where we had 3 stops but because we were running late we could not leave the plane to get food. The flight attendant shared her lunch with me after she recognized that I was one of the only passengers that had been on the flight all day. Amazing company and culture in Southwest.

  30. Jo Hunt says:

    Your story reminded me of myself. I always seem to have an angel a day. I am an editor by trade, and I someday soon I intend to name my first book “An Angel A Day,” because when circumstances seem to overwhelm me to tears (like when I lose my keys), I always ask God to send help. He always delivers!

    Jo

  31. Great story! I worked at SWA many years ago and what you experienced is one of SWA’s corporate values that they take very seriously. It’s called “Outrageous Customer Service”. This value has been adopted by employees across SWA, not just flight attendants, reservations, customer service reps, etc. And they relay these stories within SWA every month in a variety of group, company meetings so please send your experience to SWA corporate headquarters in Dallas, TX.

  32. karen mcfarland says:

    What a sweet story! I am not at all surprised to hear that it was a SW airlines flight attendant that gave up her breakfast to a passenger. I have anyways had wonderful flight attendants on my flights (though I hate to fly). My mother doesn’t like to fly anyone else from CA to Dallas because they take extra care for elderly people.

  33. Kelley says:

    …and the in story was just posted on our internal work website here at SWA and I came to your blog to read the ‘rest of the story’! LUV it and LUV that you are a believer! the bigger story is how the Lord took care of you in your time of need! 🙂
    blessings to you and your family!