American Airlines Breaks Through the Wall

Corporations have earned a bad reputation for, among other things, losing the personal touch. Example: In the name of “efficiency” (translation: cutting jobs), they force customers needing information or assistance to talk with computerized robots: “As our menu has changed, please listen carefully to the following options…” To reach a real human being with the authority and inclination to make a difference is as rare as a frog that flies.

But yesterday something miraculous happened that made me realize that hidden behind the computerized talking wall beat caring human hearts.

Two friends, top literary agents Amy and Peter Bernstein, had been working especially hard and were heading to Italy for vacation. The morning of their afternoon flight on American Airlines, I had a crazy idea: Could they be served a celebratory in-flight bottle of champagne?

I called American and ran into the predictable impenetrable wall. Twenty irritating minutes later I decided it was hopeless. Then I thought again, “No, there had to be a way through!” On an industry website I found the name of an American Airlines executive who held what seemed a promising title. A phone call to corporate headquarters reached no one. On the second call, the wrong person answered. But that young woman kindly, generously said, “Let me try to get you through.”

“Mell” came on the line, chief assistant to the executive. “How can I help you?” There was something in her voice, the way she said those 5 words, that communicated she actually meant it.

I explained my nutty idea.

“That sounds like fun!” was her stunning reply. “Call me back in half an hour.”

When I did, she broke the bad news: AA could not sell alcohol to someone not there to drink it, so I could not buy the champagne. And then she said the unbelievable: She and AA’s Premium Service Team had decided to do it anyway!!

After initially resisting, she did agree to let me pay by making a contribution to one of AA’s endorsed charities.

At 4:45 that afternoon, American Airlines Flight 236 departed JFK for Rome. Shortly after, as the Bernsteins settled in for the long flight, a stewardess approached with a bottle of iced champagne and two stemmed glasses… Later they were served a specially ordered chocolate mousse cake.

Peter’s email on arrival read, “They treated us like royalty!”

So next time I hit the computerized wall, I will stop, take a deep breath, and remember: Hidden behind it are living beating, generous hearts. People like Mell and her teammates who, if given the chance, will extend themselves to bring happiness to a perfect stranger, a fellow human being.

Brian Kahn