Series on Customer Centricity: Airline’s Delays Flight

Being on time is a credo which all airlines like to live by. However, when it comes to being empathetic to their customer’s needs, the next story will demonstrate how a leading airline bent its rules to ensure that a distressed customer was able to be with his mother in her last moments.



When Kerry Drake got on his United Airline flight, the mother he was en route to see was facing her final hours. To add an extra layer of distress, Drake knew that if he missed his connecting flight he would likely not see her before she passed. After his first flight got delayed, Drake broke down into tears on the plane. The flight attendants soon noticed his state and quickly found out what was wrong. Within minutes, Drake’s dilemma was relayed to the captain, who radioed ahead to Drake’s next flight.


The flight’s crew responded by delaying the flight’s departure to make sure he got on board. “I was still like maybe 20 yards away when I heard the gate agent say, ‘Mr. Drake, we’ve been expecting you,’” he said. When Drake finally sat on the second flight, he realized how much went into getting him onto the plane. “I was overcome with emotion!”


The result of many staff members working together to go above-and-beyond the call of duty to help this customer was that Drake made it to the hospital in time to see his mother. “At one point she opened her eyes, and I think she recognized me,” said Drake, who spent the night at the hospital. “Around 4 a.m. she had a real moment of coherence, a last rally, although we didn’t know it at the time. It was the last time.” She died that very morning.


Drake wrote the staff a heartfelt thank you letter expressing his immense gratitude for a team who was willing to pull together and pull out all the stops to assist in any way they could. In the coverage of this story on CNN, consumer advocate Christopher Elliot said:“Airline employees are evaluated based on their ability to keep a schedule. Airlines compete with each other on who has the best on-time departure record. When the crew on this flight heard about this distraught passenger trying to make his connection, they must have said, ‘To hell with it’… and they made the right call.” We think so, too.