The Power of Compassion in Our Choices: A Lesson for Meeting and Event Planners

Today, I had a choice and I know that my client did the right thing. An attendee had to cancel her trip to my client’s event for a medical reason and the client has a VERY strict cancellation policy.. very strict. Basically, there is no cancellation policy within 2 weeks of the event and I understand that and I totally get it. Money has now changed hands for the room, the F&B, and other event-related expenses.

The client, however, took a minute to look at this case and judge it on its own merits and for that I was thankful. It was nice to email the attendee back and say “It’s OK, you won’t be charged”.

Shortly after this happened, @joaneisenstodt shared a link about a Southwest pilot that sounded like one of those crazy chain emails that my one particular friend is fond of forwarding. The big difference is that this story was real, from USA Today (it is now 2023 and the link is gone!):

A Southwest Airlines pilot has been in the news during the past week after he held a flight from Los Angeles for 12 minutes — just enough time to allow a grieving grandfather to catch the flight in an effort to see his dying grandson in Colorado.

The boy — 2 year-old — Caden Rogers — died, but grandfather Mark Dickinson was able to complete his connecting itinerary and arrive in Colorado before the boy’s death.

But, according to a growing number of media accounts, Dickinson had to overcome numerous obstacles to make that happen.

From the very beginning, ABC News writes “security officials at the Los Angeles Airport did not believe Dickinson when he asked to be moved further up in a long slow-moving security line because he was hoping to make the flight and find his grandson still alive.”

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to make my flight’. I didn’t know when I was going to get the next one. I resigned myself to the fact that it was my fault,” Dickinson is quoted as saying by ABC News.

But, in the meantime, wife Nancy Dickinson had decided to call the airline to see if there was any way Southwest could hold the flight — possibly her husband’s final chance to make it to Colorado in time.

Christopher Elliott first reported the story on his travel blog, quoting an e-mail from Nancy.

She tells Elliott that when her husband finally arrived at the gate, both “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.’ “

Nancy continued to Elliott:

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.”

You see, no matter who you are, you have power and how you exercise it can make you a hero to someone. Before you jump to a NO, weigh everything for what it is. No two things are the same. Because you said no yesterday, does not mean that you cannot say yes today… if the reason is good and valid.

I have a standing rule. That rule is that I fly United… I think that after reading the story of the Southwest pilot, I think that we all owe Southwest one flight this year. That I can do. Reward someone for doing the right thing and they will continue to do the right thing.

One of the best rules that I ever learned was that rules were made to be broken.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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