Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Medical Transport of a Benevolent Kind

When I saw the headline of the press release, I must say it gave me pause: Southwest Airlines Medical Transportation Grant. Medical transport and aviation in the same sentence makes the mind rush, my mind at least, to emergency medical helicopters - about which I often rant on my blog.

But readers, this is not another tirade on emergency medical helicopters, though I can't promise I won't get back to that subject in a future post. I'm already half-way there, wound up about an announcement from the for-profit helicopter ambulance company OmniFlight that it would be offering EMS memberships to U.S. military veterans. Talk about wrapping the flag around a crass commercial venture. Don't get me started...

No, today I want to praise Southwest Airlines for its decision, just announced to add a new hospital to its program to make round-trip airline tickets available for people who must travel for medical care. The addition of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin brings to 60 the number of medical facilities in 24 states that can offer free Southwest Airline tickets to patients. Southwest says it expects to give away about 5,500 tickets in 2011.

Airline philanthropy isn't unique to Southwest. Many airlines devote serious time and money to charitable causes. American Airlines spends a bucket load no doubt on its sensational C.R. Smith Museum. And who of us who flew on Delta Air Lines last fall can forget the sight of all those employees sporting pink ties and pink dresses to raise awareness of breast cancer?

With no disrespect to the wearing of pink, I favor the color myself, how much more effective is a campaign that puts pilots into schools to help kids conquer science and math and perhaps even become pilots themselves. And then there's my friend John, another Southwest pilot, maybe he's not so fond of the classroom but he regularly donates his employee flight coupons to servicemen and women through the USO.

Photo courtesy Southwest R.J. Hinkle - QuadPhoto
All this gives me the impression that something more authentic is going on at Southwest; when this airline takes on a project its a roll-up-our-sleeves and pitch-in together-like-family-kinda-thing and it goes back to the airline's first days. The story is told of how faced with the sale of one of the four airplanes in its 1970s fleet, employees figured they could do more with fewer airplanes if they all shook their tails and worked faster, unloading, cleaning, prepping and reloading their planes lickety split. From this stroke of brilliance and we-can-do-it-if-we-try camaraderie, Southwest invented the 10-minute turnaround for which it is now famous.

In the light of its apparent commitment to both working together and giving back, let me tell a quick story about a small act of charity from Southwest's new acquisition. Last November after just one simple request, AirTran Airways donated two round trip tickets for an auction to benefit Creating Learning @ FPC, an after school program for disadvantaged children in Stamford.  Yep, its a small token but it speaks to AirTran's ability to be nimble and responsive, revealing that the company's corporate heart is in the right place. 

Separate and distinct from all the other reasons the Southwest - AirTran marriage might be good, on the doing-the-right-thing-front - the two airlines seem highly compatible.


Martin Castellan said...

Now, that's how to blog...

Brenda Greathouse said...

Angel Flight has encouraged IFR rated general aviation pilots to donate their services for medical transport for many years. This is wonderful example of CSR for Southwest. thanks for sharing.