"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear." --- H.P. Lovecraft
Traveling with children can strike fear into the heartiest Mom or Dad. I still remember our first trip with our youngest daughter, Rachel. We had to fly a short hop from Corpus Christi to Houston. Rachel was about two, and already we knew she was not a fan of anything unknown or fast moving. The Southwest jet we boarded that morning fit both categories. As I carried her up the jetbridge, she began to scream. I remember her grabbing my face with her little hands and saying,”no bye bye, no bye bye.” Just before they closed the door to the aircraft, Becki and I looked at each other and knew this was not going to happen. We quickly exited the plane, leaving the rest of the Customers onboard believing in the power of prayer.
That was over 15 years ago, and Rachel has since become a seasoned traveler, but it didn’t happen overnight.
Fear of flying is one of the most common fears in the world. For families with children struggling with developmental disabilities, the entire traveling process can be a terrifying ordeal. Between checking in at the counter and proceeding through TSA screening, your child can have a “melt down” before ever reaching the airplane door.
Southwest Airlines has partnered with the Autism Community Network of El Paso, and the TSA, to hold several Mock Flights over the past two years. Mock Flights are designed to give families with children who have special needs , a chance to experience the entire air travel process without ever leaving the ground.
Dave Taylor, Director of the group, had heard about a similar program in Philadelphia, and wanted to start something here in El Paso. After coordinating with the TSA and Airport authorities, we mapped out what a “Mock Flight” would look like. The “Mock Flight” would encompass every aspect of travel: planning in advance for the trip, driving to the airport, checking in at the counter, TSA screening, waiting to board, boarding, Inflight preparation including safety briefing, “takeoff,” inflight service, “landing,” deplaning, and picking up bags at the claim area.
Inflight and Flight Ops have been wonderful partners since the program began. These Crews are normally coming off long days and looking forward to a nice clean hotel room. Instead, we meet them at the Gate and ask for one additional leg. Not one Crew has turned us down, and after the event, they are filled with stories about the families they assisted. Everyone who has volunteered for a “Mock Flight” has come away with a sense that we really accomplished something. This project does help families directly, person to person. That kind of volunteer work is always the most rewarding.
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Early one morning I was getting ready to leave for work. I was a Customer Service Supervisor in Corpus Christi and worked the 0430-1300 shift. Before I left the house, I always made sure I had my keys, badge, and name tag. I also had a few drink coupons we would use for Customers who had been inconvenienced throughout the day. Working the early shift, I had learned to get ready and dressed completely in the dark. It normally worked out for everyone. One day I did grab my wife’s nametag instead of my own by mistake. I went the first six hours of my shift with “Becki” proudly displayed on by uniform. That morning my wife left a couple of dollars on the nightstand with a note instructing me to slip them under our daughter's pillow before I left for work. So before running out the door, I stepped into my daughter’s room, reached into my front pocket, made the usual exchange, and left for work. When I got home that afternoon my daughter was playing with a friend. I asked her, “What did the Tooth Fairy leave for you?” She had forgotten all about leaving a tooth under her pillow. So she and her friend ran upstairs to retrieve her prize. As she returned from her room and was walking down the stairs, I could see she was perplexed. She kept looking in her hand and then back to me, and back to her hand, and then yelled, “Drink Coupons!!” I quickly checked my front pocket and found the two dollars folded nicely, right where I had left them that morning. I had reached into the wrong pocket and, in the dark, traded her baby tooth for two drink coupons which she could exchange for two beers, or two wines, or one cocktail. Now my daughter was eight and probably knew the true story of the tooth fairy. But it did not stop her from blaming me for stealing the awe and mystery of her childhood. I tried to get off the hook by telling her the coupons would never expire and she could use them in 2016. Little did I know, I would have to disappoint her again and explain that drink coupons now have expiration dates. I may wait to tell her--you can only destroy your children’s dreams so many times.
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The reason I work for Southwest Airlines may not seem conventional, but it's because of my Mom. My cousin worked for Southwest and his Mom flew free, and my Mom wanted to fly free, too. She brought me the application to fill out; I did so, then awaited an interview with San Antonio Reservations. I was close to being a 1984 hire; I even got the official offer in December of that year. But, I didn't start work until January. I was among the first Reservations Agents to be hired in a long time. Training in January is no fun, especially after a bad snow storm (especially rare for San Antonio). I fought my way to work at 4 a.m. in treacherous conditions. In those days, Reservations was part of Ground Ops, and not a separate department. 1985 was the first year Reservations went to its current (and soon-to-be revamped) SAAS program. It was a big step for our operations. My first standby trip was to Chicago right after we had opened service there. I went to an Italian Fest at Navy Pier. Getting a chance to look at the operation we had taken over that year was really wild. We’ve come a long way! My finest Southwest memory came Christmas Eve in 1988. I was a CSA in Corpus Christi and staged a marriage proposal to my girlfriend, and fellow CSA, Becki Rich. In the cockpit of one of our overnight aircraft, we agreed to become another Southwest Family. Southwest is everything that I have, and everything I am. Everything I've been able to provide to my family I owe to Southwest. Every time I talk about 40 years of LUV, I tend to get choked up. I was privileged, in 2010, to be honored with the Founder's Award, the Company's highest. Herb presented it to me for receiving more than 500 external commendations, and as he said, "Not counting the letters from my Mom and Dad." My Mom was able to fly free, and thanks to her, I have had the Freedom to work with the best people in the business. Thank you, Southwest, and Happy 40th!
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