In my years in the Executive Office Customer Communications group, I've reviewed hundreds of letters from Customers with disabilities who are exceptionally pleased with the level of service that Southwest Airlines provided during their travels, and I am proud that my Coworkers serve our Customers with such compassion. Because I'm accustomed to Southwest's strong commitment to great service for Customers with disabilities, I was surprised and disappointed when I encountered some experiences with a couple of local Dallas businesses during my recent recuperation from knee reconstruction–here's the story:
In late February, I tumbled on the slopes of the beautiful Taos Ski Valley, a Southwest destination accessed by Albuquerque, NM, and I significantly damaged my knee (yes, that's Schnapps in my ski pole in the picture!). I did, however, manage to ski the rest of the way down the mountain on my shredded ligament remains to avoid the embarrassment of being strapped down in a basket sled for the ride down (die-hard skiers know pride before pain!). I had surgery a few weeks ago (and have the most delicate, subtle scar thanks to my highly skilled surgeon - Glenn Wheeless of Metrocrest Orthopeadics and Sports Medicine), but my daily routine with a mobility impairment and as a person using assistive devices has been challenging.
A week or so after surgery, I went to the post office to mail my tax return - yes, Mom, I waited until the last possible moment to mail it - but this branch had no visible arrangements for a person with a mobility impairment, and not one person in the line of 17 able-bodied, taxpaying customers had any apparent mercy on the fact that I could not stand for any length of time in my heavy brace and crutches–no one made eye contact with me (nor did the postal employees notice it when I crumbled onto the floor and "scooched" up a few feet at a time, dragging my crutches behind me until it was my turn to be helped). Now, I understand that folks with disabilities should be offered equal access to facilities and services–not preferential–and I humbly acknowledge that my condition is insignificant compared to others with permanent, life-altering impairments, but I just expected something moreÃ¢â‚¬¦.wellÃ¢â‚¬¦caring.
My next adventure was grocery shopping. The store's motorized scooter seemed the way to go (since I was amazingly ungraceful on crutches and a danger to myself and anyone within ten feet of me!), and I ambled up to this appliance thinking that my golf cart driving experience would serve me well. Not so. Neither I nor store employees could figure out if this unit needed a key; needed a charge; or was simply inoperative, but it was clear that the grocery store manager wasn't too concerned about his store's inability to assist me as a patron with a disability. I gave up, went home exhausted, and called in a Thai food order–delivered to my front door.
Perhaps these types of experiences are not the norm for these establishments and the situations I encountered were flukes–or, maybe my experience with Southwest has spoiled me and raised my expectations to an unusually high level. Every year, a growing number of Customers with disabilities travel with Southwest Airlines to exercise their Freedom to Fly, and we recently enhanced our online booking options in prompting Customers with disabilities who require special assistance to inform us their specific needs. During the booking process, Customers can proactively relay information regarding special assistance needs upon arrival at the airport and during the boarding process; the transport of manual and power wheelchairs; travel with trained assistance (and emotional support) animals; the use of personal portable oxygen concentrators; and peanut allergy arrangements.
All of our policies and procedures meet or exceed the requirements of the Air Carrier Access Act, and we take our responsibility to provide exceptional service to our special needs Customers very seriously. I know in my heart that Southwest is a reliable choice for Customers with special needs and for anyone wanting to be treated with compassion, warmth, and friendliness. Please visit southwest.com or call one of our Reservations Sales Agents (at 800 IFLYSWA) for more detailed information on how we can ensure a comfortable trip for Customers with special needs.