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Friday, January 21, 2011

Kudos to Southwest Airlines

"There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." — James Madison

Grandfather Mark Dickinson was in Los Angeles on business when he received the tragic news that his 3-year old grandson had been the victim of an unspeakable murder, as the victim, a baby, was about to get taken off life-support. He rushed to LAX to catch a Southwest flight so he could be with the child a last time and comfort his daughter. But—because LAX is an aggravating mix of slow-moving security theater minus any security, where TSA agents quite literally have God complexes and often make a point of not making exceptions—two hours weren't enough. He begged to get rushed through the checkpoint but received no help from airport employees, and he only got through security after his plane was supposed to have taken off. Eve when he tried to explain that he needed to catch the flight so he could see his grandchild before he died the TSA agent replied, “well that’s a new one — a dying grandchild” and told him to go the back of the line.

Then the strangest thing happened. A basic act of human decency, coupled with just a little bit of independent thought, ended with him making the flight after all.

When Dickinson got to the gate, still in his socks since he had sprinted across the terminal, he was shocked to see that the plane door was still open. He was then met by the pilot and the ticketing agent, who said that they had held the flight for him and were sorry for his loss. The pilot then explained a bit more, noting that he had simply declined to get on the plane and move it away from the gate, and expressed his regrets again. The pilot is quoted as telling Dickenson when he arrived at the gate; “They can't go anywhere without me, and I'm not going anywhere without you,"

Apparently Dickinson's wife had called Southwest Airlines and asked them to hold the plane, and their employees responded by acting like human beings. The final delay was only around 12 minutes, but as airline journalist Christopher Elliott noted when he broke the story, that's an eternity for any airline, especially for the hyper-efficient Southwest. Not only would this hold affect Southwest Airlines, it would also wash through the entire domestic air traffic system.

But the company is sticking by its pilot, saying they're proud of him for doing the right thing. Meanwhile the story has gone international, a trend to which we're only too happy to contribute. The pilot acted exactly the way we like all airline employees to act, mixing professional responsibilities with a bit of common sense and then acting appropriately. Southwest responded in exactly the way we want all airlines to act, backing that decision. You can read more details of the story by clicking here.

At Los Angeles International Airport TSA routinely a cut slack for celebrities and escorts them to the front of the security check line, especially if the press or cameras are present. But in Dickerson’s case the TSA looked upon him as just another citizen and choose to ignore his plea and even ridiculed him. This is what bureaucrats do, especially the low level ones. They feel empowered to act like a God in performing their $12 dollar an hour job. There is no room for humanity or compassion.

I can understand the reluctance to take every case of privilege seriously, but these so called trained security agents are supposed to be trained to see through falsehoods and lies. If they are not, then what purpose do they serve? If robots can build automobiles and computers they surely could run the scanning equipment at airports.

Just imagine what your health care will be like of ObamaCare is not repealed. These same bureaucrats will be making decisions affecting your life. When I was in the former Soviet Union I saw, first hand, the power of the low level, God-like bureaucrats. While attending a performance of the ballet Giselle in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) my colleague and I stepped out during the intermission period o see what refreshments were available. We found a stand selling ice cream so we got in line to purchase a dish. When we got to the counter we were met by a woman with a scowl who served us the ice cream. It was the way she served it that caught me by surprise. She scooped the ice cream into two small metal bowls and placed each bowl on a balance scale. She removed the ice cream from one bowl to make sure the scales were in exact balance. This low level state employee was making a decision based on a bureaucratic rule that no one person should receive more ice cream than any other person. This was an example of communism in its purest form. No humanity, no chance of error of giving one person a gram more of ice cream, no compassion, no empowerment to make a decision. Just a robotic adherence to the policy.

On the other hand the Southwest Airlines pilot was willing to risk his 6 figure salary on a decision to hold his plane at the gate for an extra 12 minutes based on a call for compassion from Dickerson’s wife. He was also placing Southwest Airlines at risk for a stiff fine from the FAA for not leaving the gate at the stated departure time.

For the pilot showing his humanity and for the airline management in empowering him to make this decision I give Southwest Airlines kudos. This is what happens when humans run things. Dickerson was able to make it home to say good bye to his grandson thanks to a brave pilot and a Airline that puts people first.

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