Service Beyond the Call of Duty
By Major Chick Yuill –
Margaret and I had a wonderful Christmas holiday. Catriona and Jenni, our daughters, arrived from England on Christmas Day and spent what should have been the next 10 days with us, but what turned out to be the next 11 days! The reason for their extended visit and the lesson learned from the experience will be the subject of the rest of this article.
We arrived at Los Angeles airport on the morning of Monday January 5 in good time to check in for their noon flight to St. Louis, where they were to connect with their onward flight to London. We had time to stroll through the airport and even to indulge Margaret’s favorite pastime–Starbucks coffee! Then we braced ourselves for the always painful task of saying goodbye. We shouldn’t have bothered!
The view from the window by the departure gate soon made it apparent that there was a problem with one of the plane’s engines. Ten minutes before the plane should have left, the mechanics were still working furiously and the passengers had still not boarded. The annoyance being expressed by the people waiting in line didn’t seem to have any effect on the staff at the desk, who made no announcement or any other effort to explain the delay.
The airline in question is one with which Margaret and I have experienced difficulty in the past, and we said to each other that we would not fly with them again. And that’s when things began to change. Our remarks were heard by an off-duty pilot, an employee of the company whose lack of service was the cause of our complaint, who happened to be standing behind us. His brother was waiting to board the same flight and he, too, was sharing our frustration. He immediately moved into action. “I’m sorry about this,” he said. “Let me see what I can do.” He showed his pass, got down onto the tarmac, found out what was wrong, and came back and began to make the kind of announcement that should have been made an hour earlier. Then he began to move along the line, checking tickets and answering questions as best he could. It’s no exaggeration to say that over the next couple of hours that one concerned off-duty employee prevented a near riot.
What it all meant for us was that Catriona and Jenni would have been much too late to make their connection in St. Louis. So their flight was rearranged for the same time next day, and we all drove back to Pasadena to spend another day together. Even then our off-duty pilot was prepared to go beyond the call of duty. The officials behind the desk refused to return our suitcases, insisting that they were containerized and that it was impossible to retrieve them. “Leave it to me,” our new-found friend whispered. He disappeared, only to emerge 10 minutes later with the missing luggage.
He concluded the whole business by telling me that a man who had suffered such poor treatment as I had deserved a stiff drink. Fellow abstainers will be glad to know that I politely declined his offer while explaining further that it’s never wise to give a Scotsman alcohol when he’s annoyed!
So what did I learn from the day? Simply that one man who cares enough to go the extra mile can avert a crisis and change the way 17 people feel about an entire organization. The challenge for you and me is this. There are people out there in the big, bad world who may at some time have been given a negative impression of The Salvation Army or–even more importantly–about our Christian faith. They may have decided never to trust us or the God we serve again. One caring act, one kind word, one thoughtful moment by you or me could be enough to make them reconsider. Think about it!