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Twelve minutes

For once, I’ve found a story to write about where there’s a true hero.

This story was reported in many places, including KTRK-TV (Channel 13, ABC, Houston)TIME NewsFeed, and no doubt others. But the original post was from Christopher Elliott of  elliott.org, who gets credited in at least the TIME NewsFeed story.

Anyway, in brief: The grandparents of a three-year old get the news their grandson had been murdered by their live-in boyfriend. As tragic as this is by itself, the grandfather (Mark) is in LA and the grandson is in Denver. So the grandmother calls the ticketing agent to arrange the flight, which involves a “step off one plane, get on another” type of connection. In other words, no margin for error.

Well, Mark runs into delays on his way through security at LAX, arriving early and still in real danger of missing his flight. The TSA agents, and possibly some Southwest employees (it’s unclear from the narrative), don’t give a damn. Fortunately, the pilot of the Southwest flight (as yet unnamed), and the ticketing agent, cared. And they cared a lot. From Nancy Elliott’s blog post:

When [Mark] got there, the pilot of his plane and the ticketing agent both said, “Are you Mark? We held the plane for you and we’re so sorry about the loss of your grandson.”

The pilot held the plane that was supposed to take off at 11:50 until 12:02 when my husband got there.

As my husband walked down the Jetway with the pilot, he said, “I can’t thank you enough for this.”

The pilot responded with, “They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”

It’s a shame we don’t know who this pilot is yet. I know some people are a bit shy when it comes to publicity, however positive it may be. But I would consider it an honor to fly with this pilot the next time I travel. Twelve minutes, for those of you not in the know, is a long time to hold a flight (later in her post, Christopher mentions it takes Southwest 20 minutes to turn around a plane, i.e., prepare it for the next flight). So the pilot risked all kinds of trouble to do what he knew was the right thing. Thankfully, Southwest chose to be proud of the compassionate and heroic actions of this pilot.

As a traveler, I would be understanding of the pilot’s actions as well. There are far worse reasons for a flight to run late (mechanical problems, inclement weather, a queue of planes waiting to take off). In fact, there aren’t too many types of delays that would last less than 30 minutes, let alone 12. Delays happen and it’s a foolish traveler that doesn’t allow an hour or so of “oops” time on either end.

Anyway, I can’t let this go without an honest critique of the TSA’s actions here. (It’s not easy to do, but I am willing to let slide the indifferent actions of any Southwest employees since the pilot’s heroic judgment trumped them in the end.) I think this strengthens the argument that it’s time to either get rid of the TSA, or at the very least rethink the screening procedures and their effect on the passenger experience.

When travelers are delayed like this, for actions that have been widely criticized as mere “security theater” as opposed to actual security, something is wrong. Mark had to take his shoes off at security. The shoe bomb trick has already been tried once, and there’s really no need to keep screening for it again. To do so is mere “security theater.” Not real security. Real changes need to be made to how we secure air travel in this country. I’m not the security expert. I’m just a guy with a blog and an above-average IQ that can tell we’re doing it wrong today. The TSA has ruined too many trips.

In the end, they didn’t ruin Mark’s trip, though. It’s reassuring to see good can triumph over indifference.

[Edit: Just now realized I flubbed Mr. Elliott's name in the original posting. Fixed.]

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