“I went to Vancouver,” my co-worker, Aaron tells me when I ask him about his Thanksgiving weekend.
I am surprised. I don’t recall him talking about plans to go away.
He laughs. “I was only there for twenty minutes.”
It was just one of those things.
His sister and two friends had gone for a ‘girls’ weekend away, leaving their husbands at home for a couple of nights with their small children. At the airport, all set to board the plane for their return flight home, his sister discovered her wallet had been stolen.
Panic set in.
Tearful, angst ridden phone calls. Cries of help. Brother and father converge at the Calgary airport in a desperate attempt to get their loved one home to her family for Thanksgiving dinner. Enroute to the airport, the father picks-up his daughter’s passport from her husband while Aaron checks out options to fly to Vancouver to deliver it. At this point, they’re not thinking about the cost. It’s all about getting her home to her family.
“Westjet was amazing,” he tells me.
Who knew they have a 25% policy for situations such as this?
“I couldn’t believe how understanding they were,” he says. Not only did they give him a 75% discount on the fare, they put him on the next flight and upgraded all four return tickets to business class for the return flight home, which happened after Aaron’s 20 minute stop-over.
Way to go Westjet! It’s no wonder you were inducted into Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Hall of Fame.
Who wouldn’t be proud of working for a company that treats distressed passengers with such good care?
As for Aaron, it gave him an even greater appreciation of what happens to people on the margins. “My sister had options. She had people jumping in to help her. When I got off the plane, they were all three standing at the gate waiting for me, crying. Her friends wouldn’t leave her alone and Westjet didn’t insist they catch their original flight. They rebooked us all together on a different flight, without charging them. But, even though my sister knew I was bringing her passport, she still felt lost and really scared. What if she never got home?”
I remember when a mix-up with my passport left me stranded in New York City for a couple of days. When the Canadian consulate told me they couldn’t help me, I started to cry. Even though I had my wallet, credit cards and money in my bank account, I still felt lost and alone. I feared they’d never let me out of the country, even though they deemed I was there illegally.
At the time, I wandered the streets of New York feeling hopeless. I tried to visit a church, it was locked. I stopped for a tea and when the waiter asked if he could get me anything else, I started to cry. I remembered all the people at the homeless shelter where I worked at that time. How they continually came up against doors closing, people telling them, no, we can’t help you get ID without a fixed address, or open a bank account, or get government assistance. No, you can’t go there, do that, sit on that, talk like that.
It was a reminder of how blessed I am, and how fragile some people’s lives are.
Aaron’s sister never planned to have her wallet stolen. She never planned to need the help of her family to get her home. And she never anticipated that an airline would step in and do whatever it could to help her through a situation they had no part in creating.
Yet, there they all were. Her family, friends, and an airline that wouldn’t leave her stranded.
For those on the margins, stranded in that place called homeless, without resources, at a loss on what to do next, sometimes, the only people standing by to help are in places called Emergency Shelters. In the emergencies they find themselves lost within, it is in those places where caring people reach out to say, “Here, let me help you shoulder the load,” that they find themselves again on the road of life, taking those first steps back to where they belong, that place called home.
Aaron’s sister made it home, just as I did long ago.
For the thousands who have not yet found their way, I am grateful there are places such as the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre and the Mustard Seed and Alpha House and a host of other agencies filled with caring people committed to ensuring that those who are stranded with no way home, are not lost forever on the streets of Calgary.