On Wednesday, July 30, the Lambert Clan was getting ready to head to Pop and Mimi’s for a summer vacation in beautiful Alden, Mich. (Torch Lake). The Lambert clan consists of Will (our 8-year-old son), Carter (our 6-year-old daughter), Charlie (our 4-year-old son), me and Isa (my wife of 15 years and the glue that holds us all together).
We had a plane to catch the next morning, and needless to say I had nothing to do with getting everyone packed, organized and ready for the long day’s journey ahead. My sole responsibility was packing the car for the one-hour trip to Tampa International Airport and helping everyone get dressed in the morning, excluding Isa of course.
Four full suitcases (check), four carry-on bags (check), three kids (check)… Ready to roll! In eight hours we’d be at Pop & Mimi’s for the next ten days for some well deserved R&R.
Everything was going smoothly so far. We boarded the first leg of our flight on Delta Airlines to Detroit where we would switch planes to make the final leg of our journey to Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Mich.
The kids were great on the first leg, but I knew that things were going too smoothly at this point; something had to give. The flight to Detroit was delightful (maybe not so delightful for the gentleman trying to sleep in the seat in front of Charlie as he put the tray table up and down more than 100 times), but the kids were happy and well behaved, which made the parents even happier.
When we arrived in Detroit, I was in charge of the carry-on bags and helping to herd the kids to the next gate. Again, everything was going as planned – no crying or arguing, just a whole lot of cooperation and anticipation.
As we arrived at the next gate, we did a quick check to make sure we had everything… We did and now we had about two hours to kill before the final leg. Isa took the kids to the restroom and the food court while I guarded our possessions and enjoyed a brief 30 minutes of daddy quiet time. Once everyone returned we set up camp and enjoyed our lunch. One more leg to go!
This is where things started to go downhill in hurry. The Delta attendant came over the PA system and announced that the flight would be delayed 30 minutes because three of the airplane’s seats needed to be repaired. Yep, you guessed it, three of our seats.
“Would passengers Dean Lambert, Carter Lambert, and Will Lambert please come to the gate to get your new seat assignments?”
“Oh no,” were the first two words out of my mouth. Knowing that we were about to be split up on a full flight, I began to wonder what was next. Luckily, Carter got to sit with Mom and Charlie, but Will and I were sent to the back of the plane and last to board.
Remember, I was still in charge of the carry-on bags, and became a little rattled at the wrench that just got thrown at my head. Isa’s last words to me as they boarded in front of me and Will were, “Don’t forget the camera case; it’s below your seat…” words that would haunt me for the next eight hours.
And you guessed it… I forgot the one bag that held our video camera, our small Canon point-and-shoot and our Mac Daddy Canon Digital Rebel – a hefty investment for any family. But, I didn’t come to realize this until we landed in Traverse City.
Will and I sat patiently in the back of the plane as the rest of our family disembarked (I like to use official airline jargon whenever possible). I grabbed my backpack, Will’s backpack, and… Where was the camera bag?! I must have turned white and started to panic because Will looked at me and asked, “Dad, what’s wrong?”
As we got off the plane, I ran up the jet way trying to see if Isa had miraculously predicted my forgetfulness and grabbed the camera bag. Much to our dismay, she did not! Now I was starting to wonder if I would ever see our camera bag again. I assumed that someone at our gate in Detroit just got an early Christmas present – the Lambert family camera gear.
I raced back up the jet way to the plane where I was met by Gwen, our pleasant Delta flight attendant who saw my reaction when I realized what I had just done. Gwen calmed me down and said that they were getting ready to head back to Detroit, to the same gate. She then laid out the plan that would put me back in the good graces of my wife: “Mr. Lambert, here’s my cell phone number, and I suggest that you give me yours. I’m going to call the gate attendant in Detroit and have them locate your bag immediately and hold it for me. If I can, I will bring it back with me on tonight’s flight and you can come pick it up. In any event, I will call you the second I land back in Detroit.”
Though I was skeptical it would still be there, I really appreciated the fact that she was willing to do this for me. After all, this was 2010, and airlines don’t exactly have the best reputation for customer service these days, right?
When Pop and Mimi met us at the airport, they immediately saw my face and could tell that something was seriously wrong. After I went through the whole story, my dad suggested that I call Detroit Airport security and see if I could have them locate it before Gwen got back. Good idea.
Ten phone calls, one hour, a countless number of phone mazes, and I got nothing. The sick feeling I had would not dissipate and I waited for the one phone call that could save the day… Gwen’s.
We arrived at Pop & Mimi’s house. The kids immediately took to playing in the tree house, the yard, the new doll house that had been constructed the day before for Carter. The kids were in heaven, Isa was having her first vacation cocktail, and I was pacing like a mad man wondering if I would ever see our camera equipment again.
Then, it came. “Mr. Lambert?” It was Gwen! “Yes! Gwen, this is Dean! Did you find it?”
“Yes, Mr. Lambert, I have it in my hands. I would bring it back tonight but unfortunately I’ve been told that I need to follow a certain protocol and turn it over to Detroit Airport Security. They will send it to you via FedEx Overnight. I’m sorry, but this is what I have to do. I’m going to walk it over there now and I’ll call you when I deliver it.”
Although I was relieved to hear it had been found, I still feared that something would happen to it if it was out of the Gwen’s hands. Ten minutes passed, and then my phone rang again. “Gwen?” I answered after half a ring. “Yes, Mr. Lambert. I am here with your bag at Detroit Airport Security and I am going to stay here until they have it ready to ship, and it looks like they’ll have to ship it tomorrow. It should arrive to you on Monday.” And it did. Gwen had single handedly saved the day!
It doesn’t get any better than Gwen; she was with me every step of the way. Gwen’s perseverance on my behalf is something we should all emulate in our own businesses and instill in each employee. This approach is particularly crucial in the graphics industry.
There will always be a customer who is a victim of fate or perhaps their own forgetfulness, such as Yours Truly. Nothing builds customer relationships, retention and word-of-mouth better than turning a potential tragedy into an unforgettable story of redemption. Having been redeemed myself, I can tell you firsthand that it works!