Wendy Knowler masthead
November 9 2011 at 11:49

Last week’s column focused on SAA’s mishandling of one of its passenger’s claim for a taxi fare refund, relating to him being bumped off a flight.

Our national carrier didn’t exactly cover itself in customer care glory in that case.

In stark contrast, the November issue of SAA’s Sawubona magazine features a letter by Joburg attorney Ken McDade about the most mindblowingly magnificent case of extra-mile service by one particular SAA employee.

So I tracked down both parties, and here is that story.

McDade had made it on to the plane at Durban’s King Shaka airport when he had the sickening realisation that he didn’t have his cellphone with him. He assumed he’d left it in an airport lounge and since the flight’s departure was delayed, he asked a flight attendant if he could quickly nip back and fetch it.

She said this wasn’t possible but the senior attendant said she would  speak to the captain about his situation.

Once airborne, McDade realised that he also didn’t have his car key on him, and that’s when he knew where he’d left it, along with his cellphone – in a scanning tray at King Shaka airport’s security section.

The plane duly landed in Joburg and as McDade was leaving the plane, pilot Michael Blanchard pulled him aside and said he’d been trying to track down his cellphone in the airport lounge, with no success.

“That’s when I told him that I’d realised where I’d left the phone and my key,” McDade says. “So he said he’d carry on trying to locate my stuff while flying back to Durban later that night, and hopefully bring them back to Joburg and then drop them off at my home on the way to his home! Somehow I never doubted that that’s exactly what he would do,” McDade wrote in his letter.

His faith was not misplaced.

While flying back to Durban that night, Blanchard made contact with all the relevant authorities, located the key and phone, and arranged for McDade to send an affidavit to the police stationed at King Shaka, authorising the release of his possessions to the pilot.

Then Blanchard picked up the cellphone and key, flew back to Joburg with them and did a detour to deliver them to McDade’s home on this way home late that night.

“How does one respond to that kind of service?” McDade wrote in his letter to Sawubona. “I very much doubt that the pilot woke up on that day and said: ‘Today I’m gonna do a good turn’, having never done anything like that before.”

He was right. Blanchard does indeed make a habit of going the extra mile for his passengers.

“Every day I try to do something for someone who could never repay me for it,” he told Consumer Watch.

Predictably, he played down what he did for McDade as “a very small thing”.

“I have the advantage of knowing how the system works,” he said.

“For someone who doesn’t, their chances of getting their lost property back from an airport in another city, given all the policies and procedures in place, are quite slim.

“I get huge satisfaction from being able to reunite people with their belongings… that look of relief on their faces is amazing.”

He tells of flying to Kinshasa and then discovering that a bag had been left by a passenger in an overhead locker.

Among the contents was $5 000 in cash. Blanchard found a diary inside the bag, spotted a name, and made a call to find out whether that person had been a passenger on the flight. He was told she wasn’t.

“I then found a print-out of a travel itinerary, and sure enough, that woman had been on the flight.”

But there were no contact numbers for her. So he phoned someone whose number did appear in the diary – no matter that they lived in Hawaii.

“That person referred me to someone in Boston, who referred me to someone in KZN, who gave me the woman’s number in the Congo.

“48 hours later, she had her bag – intact.”

If some of his passengers on a domestic flight are at risk of missing an international flight due to a delay, he’ll contact the airline and try and persuade them to let them board late.

“It’s just about always doing your best in any situation,” he says.

McDade, and no doubt all the others who have been on receiving end of Blanchard’s brand of best service, remains gobsmacked.

“Maybe the best way to thank him is to hold him up as an example,” he says.

“If we all were to help each other in that sort of selfless way, whenever the opportunity arose, wouldn’t that make a difference?”

You bet it would.

And readers, if you have been on the receiving end of exceptional, extra-mile service from an employee of an organisation, please let me know.  consumer@knowler.co.za



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