My good friend Robert recently visited me in Orlando from Chicago, IL. He told me of the outstanding service he received during his Orlando-bound flight, from an airline not known for great customer service. I asked him why he thought that day, that flight, was the exception to the rule of airline mediocrity. He told me, “I now take care of those who take care of me!” Astonished, I of course asked, “What do you mean, you take care of them?”

A few years ago, Robert a started new tradition. On his way to his honeymoon to Paris, France, knowing full well he could not get into first class, asked himself a few questions, “How can my new wife and I get first class treatment on this long flight without actually sitting in first class? What would it take for the flight attendants to want to treat us like VIPs? If I were a flight attendant, what would I want?”

Robert decided he would purchase yummy, gourmet food that could be easily acquired in the Chicago airport and that all flight attendants could share among their team – Chicago’s finest gourmet popcorn. When he brought the popcorn aboard in a large see-through bag, a Chicago-based flight attendant said, “Oh, I just love that popcorn! You are so lucky and smart to bring that on a trans-Atlantic flight. Is that for a lucky someone in France, or all for you?” Robert answered, “Actually it is for you and your team! I figure no one ever does anything for you, so my new bride and I wanted you to have this a gift from us!” A bit flabbergasted and very appreciative, the flight attendant immediately said, “You are soooo nice! Where are you and your bride sitting?” Robert replied, “Way in the back, in the middle, 32 e & f.”

After all the passengers were seated, a new flight attendant came up to Robert and his wife and thanked them for the yummy popcorn. He then asked them to follow him, “and bring your bags.” The flight attendant moved them to up business class, apologizing there was no more room in first class. Another flight attendant from first class brought them both a glass of champagne. The rest of the flight they were showered with gifts, thanks, meals and extra perks. At one point, two business passengers behind Robert and his wife loudly asked, “Who are you people? Are you famous? Should we know you?”

I fly Southwest Airlines a lot and I just recently asked my two flight attendants, “You all do such a great job. If I were to bring a small token of my appreciation to you both on my next flight, what would be a good gift for anyone who works with you?” The flight attendant said, “Chocolate! Any kind of Chocolate!” I replied, “It’s a deal! From now on, I will bring four bars of chocolate on every flight!”

Now, because I also work in hospitals three days a week, and some day I too will be in there with the sickest of us, I’m now wondering how I can carry on Robert’s new tradition there. What could I give to my Nurse, Doctor, Orderly, Transporter, or Physical Therapist, who are on their feet all day taking care of me and others? Maybe I will call the local Day Spa and order four or five foot messages to be done right on my floor and then I too will “Take care of those taking care of me!

Thanks for the inspiration, Robert Teinowitz!