The Kindness of Big Business: A Story
Everyone is always ripping big business. They’re cold, they’re cruel, they’re corporate. And much of the time, that’s true. Yes, big business creates jobs, cheap products and innovative solutions. But in terms of finding the simple milk of human kindness, corporations aren’t where you typically look. There’s a reason people hate their insurance companies.
But every once in a while, you hear a story that makes you recognize that big business is far superior to big government, even in terms of pure benevolence.
This is one of those stories.
This week, my younger sister got engaged. Her fiance, David, wanted to propose in a dramatic way. There was only one problem: His dramatic plan conflicted directly with already-booked travel plans with the British airline BMI. In short, he needed BMI to change his nonrefundable ticket. He made several calls. On each of the calls, he told his story to a sympathetic female attendant, who would invariably coo, "Oh, that’s so sweet! But those tickets are nonrefundable? Sorry about that."
Finally, he decided as a last resort to contact the airline through their website. He filled in a form with the following letter:
"To Whom It May Concern:
"I had a great idea. I might even call this great idea a dream, but I want you to take me seriously. I am flying this November from Israel, where I am studying to be a rabbi, to LA, where my girlfriend is studying to be a physical therapist, and flying from there to Chicago where her grandmother is throwing herself a Thanksgiving-birthday party (don’t ask, it’s actually more ridiculous than that). And a few short days later, I am due to return to Israel. Or so my naive and unsuspecting, yet sassy but pleasant, girlfriend thinks.
"That’s where you come in, friend. Because the good idea, the dream if you will, is to let her drop me off at the international terminal where we say our teary goodbyes, but then cleverly traipse on over to a domestic flight heading to LA. I want to beat her there, see, and when she arrives, I want to greet her there with 12 dozen roses and a diamond ring.
"What’s that? Does she see it coming? Not even a little. Great idea? I told you.
"There’s one small difficulty. I have a flight going to Israel, not Los Angeles. The most ideal situation would be to delay that ticket until later in the week, say, Dec. 2 or 3, and buy myself a round-trip ticket to LA from Chicago. Then everybody wins. Especially me and my girlfriend (fiancee!), and even a little bit you, concerned reader, for helping me set up the best possible proposal my uncreative but pretty romantic mind could ever piece together.
"Ah, yes, the problem. My ticket, I have been told, is nonrefundable. Which means I cannot delay it till later in the week. But there’s something else that I’ve been told, dear concerned reader, and that is that love conquers all, even the fine print. I hope I have not been lied to. I hope that somewhere, someone hidden behind a wall of red tape takes the time to get this far into my letter (kudos by the way) and realizes that with a couple keystrokes, she can change my destiny. I hope I can make my ever-loving girlfriend as happy as she deserves. I hope."
David sent the letter. Six hours later, he got a call from an attendant. "We got your letter," said the customer service representative. "And we found it intriguing." Five minutes later, his tickets were rebooked by the airline. And a few days later, he proposed to my sister in Los Angeles.
That’s a story you won’t hear about the DMV, the post office, or the folks who are going to be running the medical system if President Obama gets his way. Sometimes, even in the competitive world of business, love triumphs over red tape. When it comes to the government, the only thing that triumphs is the red tape.