What d'ya know?

What d'ya know?

By Ralph Hood

May 2002

Ralph Hood is a Certified Speaking Professional who has addressed aviation groups throughout North America. A pilot since 1969, he's insured and sold airplanes at retail and distributor levels and taught aviation management for Southern Illinois University. Reach him at ralph@ralphhood.com More than 15 years ago, I lambasted airline service in the very first column I wrote for this magazine (actually, it was for FBO, the predecessor of this magazine). I was stuck on a Northwest airliner in Minneapolis at the time. I was disgusted with airline service and my opinion has gone downhill since. On the other hand, during the last two weeks, Northwest has treated me well-above and beyond well, in fact-and it seems only fair to report that, also.

The story actually starts with a Northwest mistake. But, you measure a company not by their mistakes, but by how well they handle their mistakes, and Lord, Northwest handled this one well.

To make a long story short, two months before a trip, I tried to buy a ticket to Springfield, IL, and I ended up with a ticket to Springfield, MO. (That sounds more like a charter mistake than an airline mistake, doesn't it?) I discovered the problem only two days before the flight, and I was, as King James' Bible sayeth, "sore afraid."

I am convinced that a bell rings in each airline headquarters when I am forced to change a ticket at the last minute. When said bell rings, the entire company comes to a halt while all employees clap with glee and sing a rousing chorus of Happy Days Are Here Again! Typically, such a change involves a small business loan and all the pleasure of a vasectomy done by an IRS agent using a chainsaw.

Northwest surprised me. After much discussion with other people, the agent came up with the most reasonable solution I have ever heard from an airline. "Mr. Hood, we're going to change the ticket at no charge. In fact, because a ticket to Illinois is cheaper than the ticket to Missouri, we're going to refund $68." Y'all, Mother was right. There really is a God in heaven!

But that's just half of the story. I really hate to tell the other half, but I suppose I must…

Having squandered my youth in the aviation industry I am no longer a young man. As my picture shows, I am missing most of my hair. The picture does not show - thank goodness - that I am also missing a few teeth. I have a "partial," which is a term dentists invented because it sounds so much better than "false teeth."

On the Northwest flight, they fed me Goldfish crackers, which don't mix well with false teeth. I sneaked the teeth out (carefully, so the cute young girl across the aisle wouldn't notice) planning to secret them in my shirt pocket. Alas, I had on one of those Polo Ralph Lauren shirts with no pocket. (I bought two of them in a moment of rash madness, and will never have another.) I solved my dilemma by placing the partial on a napkin on the tray, then covered them with another napkin.

You probably already know the rest of the story. The flight attendant came by and I placed cracker wrapper, napkins, and teeth in her trash bag. Soon thereafter I realized the error of my ways, frantically called the flight attendant, and softly explained my problem. She exclaimed, "You lost your teeth?" Everyone in the plane -including the cute young girl - turned to gape.

Folks, that flight attendant, whose name I would gladly provide but Northwest wouldn't give it to me, put on rubber gloves and dug through that huge bag one piece at a time until she found my teeth.

I love that flight attendant, and hope she lives happily ever after.

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