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An Internship that made me NUTS! Part One: The Experience

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As I put my bookmarked, half-finished copy of NUTS! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success down, I cannot help but wonder if every successful airline today has a story quite as captivating.  As a former Southwest Airlines intern, I am still without words to describe how the last three months took me on the “flight” of a lifetime.  This is my attempt to immortalize all that the company has taught me in such little time. Before I commence, please consider this a candid disclaimer: I have not been asked by Southwest Airlines to write this article—I volunteered.  I strongly believe that a stellar experience always needs to be well documented and openly shared, especially when it comes packaged with an entire organization (and that includes every soul in it!) portraying a “Servant’s Heart, a Warrior Spirit, and a very Fun-LUVing Attitude!” The privilege of free flight travel was ludicrous to say the least, but this was not the NoLimits internship’s only tempting factor.  I also wanted to know more about the safety procedures of a major airline, so this was a remarkable opportunity.
My day in the field.
My day in the field.
Upon retrospect four months forward, I have realized I gained so much more from my internship than what I first expected!  Coming from a background in aviation, I know never to take safety for granted; therefore, to have been a part of an amazing Ground Operations: Safety Standards and Regulatory Compliance team was a blessing.  I was so warmly welcomed into the Southwest family on my first day, all my saucers of extensively broad learning horizons were coupled with plates full of fun and laughter.  After all, what is learning without a humorous twist anyway?! To every amateur question I posed, I was dealt two kinds of answers­—the accurate and the bizarre; most often the latter were so witty they were actually quite believable.  Everybody knows that a ‘red-eye flight’ is one in which the customer drinks too much alcohol and wakes up groggy with blurry vision, right?  Right! The educational highlight of my internship was the day I spent in the field.  My team sent me to Austin to study the various airport departments.  I scanned boarding passes, welcomed customers on board, helped push back a Boeing 737-500 (from the tug, not literally!), tagged check-in bags, explored the vast underground where the ramp personnel bring your bags to the aircraft, and helped load and unload bags into a Boeing 737-800, an aircraft that’s, very colloquially, rad!  I was in heaven when the Captain and First Officer so willingly showed a friend of mine and me (with our yearning and uncontainable excitement) around the cockpit.  That day I found new respect for every single customer service, operations, and ramp agent, whose daily duties require immense skill and patience, which we very often take for granted.
Me in the cockpit.
Me in the cockpit.
All my experiences have impacted me in more ways than I can count.  My days at work had me cross paths with very dedicated leaders from whom I have learnt more about safety by working beside them than by studying a safety textbook.  I have had the privilege of routinely dealing with loading schedules, irregularity reports, and some regulatory procedures, and as someone who is besotted with the very concept of flight, I know how we often place safety and security in the grey by being lethargic about it until there’s been an incident. Frankly, as frequent fliers, we want to take those extra five pounds in our bag and don’t want to be forced to put our cell phones into airplane mode.  We don’t want to deal with the consequences of an overweight flight or with the interfering signals between our phones and the avionic systems.  We are grumpy about bad weather delays, yet we don’t want to sit through rough turbulence.  And we’re also too busy to listen to safety briefings because our daily schedules have us preoccupied. This internship not only taught me the importance of why safety is the #1 priority (they love the prevention is better than cure proverb here!), but also how important it is to treat one another with respect regardless of color, creed, or orientation.  It taught me to smile at the customer service agent at the counter and the air-stewards in the aircraft, to thank the pilots after a safe landing, and to be helpful and courteous to every person I see. One of my co-workers once shared with me a saying that is essentially what Southwest Airlines breathes; it read: “You will never know the battles people fight. Always be kind.  These are the values that will linger on forever, much more than my Southwest educational conquests.
Me with fellow interns.
Me with fellow interns in Philadelphia, PA.
From around 14,000 applicants, approximately 90 interns were chosen, and each of us has a different story to tell—of three months, the common denominator is gratitude.  But there’s also: Happiness.  Adventure.  Being appreciative of others.  The joys of servitude and hard work.  Perseverance.  Fun.  Not taking one’s self too seriously.  Three months, an Amazing Race, a volunteering opportunity to plant trees, and a trip to a baseball game later, I have a broad outlook (and a broader waistline) from an experience that equals none other!  Every page of NUTS! I now turn relives a compendium of memories that will always remain etched, to me, in time.