Wichita Falls is a city of about 100,000 people in northeast Texas. It looks like there’s a lot of stunning natural beauty nearby.
But what the airport at Wichita Falls doesn’t have, apparently, is a place to get a nice meal near the airport, especially if 100 or more people unexpectedly show up all at once.
This became relevant last week, when American Airlines flight 2354 from Los Angeles to Dallas-Fort Worth was diverted there due to extreme thunderstorms. Passengers were looking at the likelihood of having to scramble to find a place to stay overnight, to say nothing of finding a bite to eat.
And the captain on their flight came up with a very simple solution.
In short, he called up the local Papa John’s and ordered 40 pizzas for his 159 passengers. As far as we know, he fronted the entire bill, $500 or more, himself. And his simple gesture went viral.
The captain’s name: Jeff Raines, according to CNN. His actions–in fact the moments when he found himself running back and forth from the terminal to the Papa John’s delivery car–was all captured on video by an airport worker named Josh Raines (no indication they’re related).
As Josh explained later in his Twitter feed, the passengers were going to travel the rest of the way to Dallas via bus. But Wichita Falls Municipal Airport is actually a mostly military airport, attached to Sheppard Air Force Base. It’s just not equipped for a sudden, unexpected influx of passengers.
Jeff Raines (the captain) apparently followed the whole thing up with an explanation on Facebook:
Thanks for the compliments however this was a “TEAM” effort. My First Officer was on the telephone with crew tracking / hotel desk arranging for our release and hotels for the entire crew.
The Flight Attendants manned a galley cart from the aircraft serving waters, juice, and sodas to all the passengers in the terminal. All while the Envoy SPS Personnel were arranging for a bus, re-booking flights, and answering a flurry of questions from these passengers.
Thanks to everyone for your help – there is no “I” in TEAM.
It’s unclear whether the passengers continued to Dallas via bus, as both Josh Raines and Jeff Raines seem to have suggested, or if they flew there the next morning, as American corporate P.R. says. I suspect it’s possible some passengers might have continued on to Dallas via bus; others waited for the flight the next day.
But the real point here is an airline employee taking it upon himself to do something that’s clearly not listed in the American Airlines handbook, but that has a lot of potential to increase passengers’ affinity for the airline.
We’ve seen this repeatedly lately, for example with the Southwest Airlines captain who rerouted a flight to enable a passenger to get an amazing photo of the Great American Eclipse in 2017, and the Southwest flight attendant who worked to allow a passenger who has Down syndrome to fulfill her dream, at least for a day, of working as a flight attendant.
These little actions help any business’s reputation, and they often pay big dividends. For its pilot’s $500 pizza outlay, American clearly got a lot more than $500 worth of brand equity or marketing.
It doesn’t even really matter if the passengers like pizza. Simply by making the effort, the captain bought goodwill.
“We are always proud of our crew members who take great care of our customers who fly on American Airlines,” American said in an email. “We are fortunate that our crew members are the best in the business.”