Porter Airlines, My Daughter’s Health Struggles, and What it Means to be “Human”

by Marcus Sheridan

A tired little girl after a long week.

A tired little girl after a long week.

As I write this article, it’s midnight and I find myself sitting next to my wife and daughter who are both fast asleep in a hospital bed , exhausted after a 7 day struggle that has included stops at 3 different hospitals and 2 surgeries.

In a nutshell, this is the timeline:

7 days ago: My 4-year old daughter “Pink” (as everyone calls her) has just had “successful” surgery to remove her enlarged tonsils and adenoids—a procedure meant to eliminate her disruptive sleeping patterns (sleep apnea) which she has suffered from for quite some time.

3 days ago, Tuesday, 7am: On my way to catch a flight from Washington DC to Toronto to speak at Mastermind Talks the following day, I receive a call from my wife (Nikki) that she is in the hospital with Pink. Hours earlier, my daughter had vomited (multiple times) large amounts of blood, leading to a frantic emergency room visit. The doctors tell my wife the throat wounds from the surgery have not healed as well as hoped for, causing internal bleeding in the throat and therefore the nausea. That being said, they’re confident the incident won’t happen again and send my daughter home. Worried but hopeful, I board the plane with anxiety as to what lies ahead.

Wednesday,12 am midnight: Afraid of a repeat incident, my wife asks our niece Harley to stay awake with Pink for a few hours while she tries to get some sleep (after having slept 3 hours the night before). As is always the case, her intuition was spot-on, because at 2am my daughter again starts coughing up blood, leading to another sleepless night in the emergency room, this time at a different hospital. Once again, the doctors are confident the bleeding will subside, but this time they keep Pink in the hospital for the night for precautionary observations.

Upon receiving news from my wife, I now start to fear the worst (as parents do) and debate as to whether or not I should go home and cut my trip short. I’m scheduled to fly home early Friday morning but at this point my mind is elsewhere. Nikki and I agree to wait and see what the night brings and make a decision at that time.

Thursday(today) 3am: I’m awoken in my hotel room with the sound of my phone vibrating on the nightstand. Before I even see who it is, my heart starts to race. Nikki then tells me the bleeding has started again, and the next step is surgery at 9:30am in the morning. At this point, it’s clear to me that I need to get home as soon as possible.

6:00am: I’ve just arrived at the “Island Airport” in downtown Toronto. Considering I have a flight from this same airport to Washington DC the next morning with Porter Airlines, I’m hoping they’ll understand my situation and work with me on the ticket price. At this point, I explain to the attendee my desire to leave on my flight today(instead of the same time tomorrow) because of the fact my daughter is in surgery in a few hours.

Without making a single acknowledgment of what I’ve just told her about my daughter, the attendee tells me there is essentially nothing she can do, and the one-way ticket will be $530. Considering the original round trip ticket was just over $200, I can only grit my teeth and hand her my credit card.

9:30am: While I’m driving down Interstate 95 from DC to Richmond, Pink once again is in surgery. The doctor goes in and cauterizes her small throat vessels that were the cause of the problem.

11am: I finally make it to Pink’s hospital room in Richmond. Understandably, it’s an emotional meeting.

8pm: Pink has been doing well all day and literally eaten 12 Popsicles. Despite all she’s gone through, she maintains her smile and uncanny sense of humor. I’m so grateful the storm appears to have passed.

9:30pm: Now that things have calmed down, I decide to give Porter Airlines a call. Thinking someone in customer service will see the situation for what it is, I speak to one of their representatives in an effort to see if they’ll work with me on the ticket price.

This time, the lady on the end is even less sympathetic than the one I’d spoken with earlier in the day. Without showing the slightest hint of empathy, her response is, “I’m sorry Mr. Sheridan, but we’ve done the best we can do.”

Without raising my voice at all, I respond:

“You haven’t done the best you can do. But it is what it is.”

On Being Human

Rarely ever do I complain about other businesses on social media. Honestly, I think I’ve only done it once or twice in the 5 years I’ve been so involved in the online world. Having owned multiple companies, I get that everyone has bad moments here and there. But my experience over the last 24 hours has caused me much contemplation on what my friend Chris Brogan would refer to as “humanizing” your business.

From what I can tell, Porter Airlines is likely a great company. They seem to think outside the box with certain elements of their business and I’m sure they do way more “right” than “wrong” when it comes to working with their customers.

That being said,  I’m not writing this article because of a plane ticket.

Rather, I’m moved to write this  because Porter’s only focus was on policy, not people.

Yes, their “policy” may have made them an extra $530 on a flight that was less than 50% full, but their inability to look beyond the letter of the law is truly disappointing. (That being said, I do not feel whatsoever that this post should cause anyone to say “I’m not using Porter Airlines.” The company has done many good things in the past to get where they are.)

I’ve always said that successful marketing comes down to 4 essential principles:

  • Listening
  • Communicating
  • Teaching
  • Helping

Well, it turns out that I wasn’t talking about marketing at all.

I was talking about being human.

***Update: I wrote this post 3 days ago, Friday, 6/23. That night, Pink again had bleeding problems and we had to go back into surgery the next morning. Gratefully, in the two days since, the bleeding has appeared to have stopped. Although we are very cautiously optimistic, we are hoping the storm has passed. My wife and I would like to thank all those persons that have sent of words and messages of support during this difficult time.

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