It’s well known that bad news travels fast, far and is almost impossible to control once it hits the air waves. Like the children’s game of “telephone” the story gets bigger and bigger as its passed from person to person. In today’s instant news, incomplete information and being first, it may serve us well to be slightly skeptical especially when something sounds so ridiculous and out of character. Following are two examples I recently encountered about service provided by a world class airline which proves my hypothesis.

This weekend I had two diametrically opposed experiences, neither first hand, but both involving a world class airline. While the experiences are VERY different from one another, what stuck me most was that the experience that focused on the negative was shared with great -apparent- certainty and exactness, and the experience that was positive -while first hand- was shared with much less exactness and detail.

The negative experience went something like this. While at dinner with two long-time friends my wife and my conversation turned to travel, when one of the ladies we were dining with said “did you hear what happened on a flight at the world class airline?” At which time she proceeded to tell us that she heard on multiple radio stations of a man on a flight who had the unfortunate luck to sit in the biproduct of a companion dog. Apparently, the dog jumped up on a seat, did his business, and the man sat in it.

During the conversation my wife and I questioned the validity of the story. Our friend was “certain” that the crew knew about the dog’s product and refused to clean it up [wrong], she also assumed that the man was forced to sit in the seat [wrong] and that no one at the airline would assist this poor guy in any way [wrong]. When I questioned her about how she knew the details, and could speak with such conviction she told me that it was on all the radio stations an TV news.

While there was some truth to the unfortunate incident, no airline employees knew, or refused to help. There were opportunities where the airline teammates could have done a better job, which airline apologized for.

Contrast that story with a firsthand story shared with my wife and I that also involved the same airline, with a much different ending. Also, this weekend my wife and I attended a wedding reception for a long time -much younger- friend of ours who had just celebrated her wedding in Bordeaux, France. When we arrived at the reception, we met her proud father and we asked how things went. Her father explained that everything went exceptionally well, but he wasn’t quite sure how his daughter made the wedding… We probed further, and he said “just ask her.”

When we got our chance to speak with the glowing bride, we exchanged hugs and then asked what happened. Well, being a young bride and having an out of the country wedding her finances were a bit tighter than is ideal. So, she decided that one way she could save a few dollars was to wait to renew her passport until after she was married and change her name after her nuptials. She checked her passport and with 90 days left until expiration she thought she was good.

You know were the story is headed… yup, when she arrived at the airport with her fiancé and presented her passport, she was told by the ticket agent that her expiration date didn’t meet the new government requirements. She was told that she could not board the plane, and would need to renew her passport BEFORE heading to Bordeaux for her wedding which was just two days away.

As her husband-to-be began to question the ticket agent, our friend literally collapsed to the floor crying uncontrollably. As she lay on the floor sobbing the ticket agent told her fiancé to hold on, let’s see what magic she could make happen… And the real side of the airline began to show.

First the agent explained that there is a way to get an expedited passport (who knew) and that she could give the happy couple the contact and how to make it happen. The couple perked up just a bit, maybe just maybe they could pull it off. The agent also told our friend that she would need a new passport asap and to go Walgreens and get her photo taken. Which she did, still crying and with mascara running down her face (you can see it in her passport photo). Third the ticket agent said when you get the passport, you’ll need another ticket. She proceeded to check our friend’s ticket which was nonrefundable. A new ticket would be an additional $4,000 which the couple did not have. More tears, more collapsing and more hurdles…

So, as we listened to our newly married friend, we asked what happened? Well what happened was some exceptional service that never made the news. The folks at the US Department of State fast tracked her passport and had it reissued within three hours, based on a little prompting from the airline agent! Great work government employees! The “uncaring” airline found two seats on a flight to France, upgraded our friends because of all the inconvenience (none of which was caused by the airline) and charged them only the ticket processing fees! Our friend made her wedding, and has a great story to tell her grandchildren.

So what’s the point? Great companies -at times- have employees who fail. Greater companies stand behind their customer and solve the problem. In my first example after doing more research on the internet it was clear that the airline was well on the way to resolving a very unfortunate situation.

In my second example -which few if anyone has heard of- the airline and their employee were exceptional. Given the chance to fix a very difficult situation their employee went way above and beyond to help make a special moment in my friend’s life, even more special. While the airline isn’t perfect, I knew the first story had to be a bit embellished, and the second story will never make the news.

Congrats to our friends at the airline for going above and beyond.