Southwest Airlines Holds Flight For Family Of A Murdered Child

Earlier this week Christopher Elliot reported a story that is one of those tear jerkers. I am sure most of you have read this story already, but for those of you who have not, go grab a handkerchief, because this is a story that you have to read.

In place of Elliott’s usual Monday “Can This Trip Be Saved” column (which by the way I think everyone should read) he posted a letter from a reader about how a Southwest Airlines’ pilot saved the trip for the Grandfather of a murdered child.

Elliott’s blog posted an email sent to him by Nancy, a regular reader of his blog. The email opens with a line that will rip the heart out of any parent or grandparent:

Last night, my husband and I got the tragic news that our three-year-old grandson in Denver had been murdered by our daughter’s live-in boyfriend.

From there it goes on to explain how a Southwest Airlines’ pilot turned a stressful situation into a somewhat less stressful situation, as the email goes on to read:

In LAX, the lines to both check a bag and get through security were exceptional. He got to the airport two hours early and was still late getting to his plane.

Every step of the way, he’s on the verge of tears and trying to get assistance from both TSA and Southwest employees to get to his plane on time.

According to him, everyone he talked to couldn’t have cared less. When he was done with security, he grabbed his computer bag, shoes and belt and ran to his terminal in his stocking feet.

When he got there, 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.”

The pilot held the plane that was supposed to take off at 11:50 until 12:02 when my husband got there.

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.”

My husband was able to take his first deep breath of the day.

I don’t know any other airline that would have done this.

To most people 12 minutes is not a big deal, but to an airline pushing off a gate 12 minutes late is a big deal … especially to the operations of an airline like Southwest Airlines. With Southwest Airlines turning around many flights in just over 20 minutes from the time the cabin door opens until it closes again, 12 minutes is a very long time.  For a Southwest Airlines plane to sit at the gate an extra 12 minutes means that is 12 minutes the ground crew can’t attend to another aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport, a major focus city for Southwest Airlines.  12 minutes means that the gate is occupied, potentially delaying another flight and the aircraft potentially getting delayed in its departure.

Many airlines would penalize pilots for unnecessarily delaying a flight … however Southwest Airlines has never been the same as most airlines, and the airline has publicly stated it is proud of its pilot’s decision.

I’d like to thank Christopher Elliott for writing a positive story about the airline and travel industry, even if the story is intertwined with the tragic events of a child’s murder. There simply aren’t enough positive stories to go around sometimes.

I’d also like to thank Southwest Airlines for showing that the heart logo painted on their aircraft is there because the airline really has a heart.

Happy Flying!


  1. Kudos to the pilot who came through for a grieving grandfather. And kudos also to Southwest Airlines for fostering a corporate climate in which the pilot could make such a decision with no fear of repercussion.

  2. I imagine on a local unofficial level this could happen with a number of carriers.

    From reading the article, I’m still not clear exactly how the pilot and ops agent knew about the circumstances of this passenger? Was it from a remark in the reservation from when it was booked; I think the article mentioned it may have been booked by a relative that worked for WN?

    It reminds me of a similar story on Nuts About Southwest about how a flight was held re a funeral for another pax, and a WN employee saw this and further investigated (in a good way) the employees that had a part in it.

    Also interesting that the pax got the bureaucratic red tape run around presumably in all other parts of their air travel experience.

  3. The passenger called his wife who inturn called the customer service at southwest. That’s what was stated in another article. Southwest airlines and that pilot deserve recognition for an outstanding job well done.

  4. I would have to say kudos to Southwest’s PR department. They have always been one of the best in the industry. Unfortunatly, their overall treatment of their passengers is much more like herding cattle in the Chicago Stockyards.
    The SOP is “head ’em up and move “em out Rawhide”. I have to hand it to them, they make a good profit and still seem to provide extra services. But they do it a the cost of any personal dignity of their passengers. No seat assignment boarding saves them as much if not more than any checked bag fees would cost. Their average turn-around time is less than half that of other airlines. Do the math. That plus a 2″ smaller seat clearance and one of the lowest payscales for its employees is what is real. Wowbeit to those AirTran passengers who will now go from one of the best customer/passenger service airlines to almost nil. The first things to go will be Business Class and Elite Status. Goodbye to the last really great low cost airline.

  5. I returned to help in Haiti in November. My first trip was in August. Long-story short, I could NOT get out of MIA via United, no matter what I did. I ended booking a flight on someone’s cell phone for Southwest out of Ft. Lauderdale. I took the shuttle and got there. I was tired and had been awake for 36 hours trying to get out of MIA. I had another 13 hours to wait until my flight, when I asked the Southwest employee if there was anything he could do. I explained how I was just serving in Haiti and it was just after Huricane Tomas passed by. I was tired, cranky and wanted to be home soon. He bent over backwards, got me on a different flight, waived the surcharge and got me home and in bed literally hours before my original flight would have left. I was SO thankful for his ability to go above and beyond.

  6. It was incorrectly reported that I called Southwest while my husband was in line. We have no idea HOW the pilot found out. Miracles happen every day – and this was one.

  7. Nancy,

    First off I am so very sorry to hear of your family’s loss. I have three children of my own and cannot even begin to imagine the pain. I offer you and your family my deepest condolences.

    On the topic of Southwest Airlines … knowing the airline, many people in the airline and how they treat their passengers … not much ceases to amaze me. My guess is someone on Southwest’s front line overheard him speaking with another employee and radio’d the gate. The airline has time and time again done the right thing and proven why many of us continue to fly them.

    – Fish

  8. I’ve worked for Southwest and there are no employees, we are considered family. We were taught that in these types of circumstances to try and do what we could for our passengers. Supervisors helped to make arrangements of flights for cancer patients and family from M D Anderson and so forth. Good customer service is what is important. Herb said that we were not in competition with Delta, American etc.. but with GM, VW, and Ford. We get you from point A to point B at the cheapest rate and in the fastest time, safely. Southwest Airlines is awesome. I LUVed working there and I wish I could work from home for them. Work is FUN at southwest Airlines. Join the party.

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