When a Delta Air Lines plane goes down, the company mobilizes an army of marketing representatives to help the survivors and the families of the dead.
Moments after Delta Flight 1141 crashed on takeoff at Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday, the airline began alerting its representatives.
Some of the marketing representatives sent to help the victims were from Salt Lake City.
"They've got their bags packed, they have passports and what money they need to live on. They are available right now to get on a plane and go anywhere in the world," said Fred H. Rollins, district director of markering for Delta.
Rollins wasn't exaggerrating. Delta's compassion in the wake of a tragedy is legend. In the hours following the crash of a Delta plane, the compny assigns a marketing representative to the family of each person killed or seriously injured in the crash.
"They do everything from washing dishes, to baking cookies to getting the kids to school and taking someone for a doctor's appointment," Rollins said. "Theyare the family's sounding board and support."
Representatives need passports because they often fly to the towns where the grieving families live -- no matter where those towns are.
A group of representatives from Salt Lake city flew to Texas Wednesday afternoon lto assist the families of the dead and critically injured.
Three years ago, Delta was sending its representatives as far away as Israel to comfort the grieving. When Delta Flight 191 crashed ath the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Aug. 3, 1985, 137 people were killed.
Rollins was based in Detroit at the time. Delta asked him to coordinate the company's assistance to the stunned families of the dead. He caught the first flight to Dallas and began assigning hundreds of marketing representatives to assist the grieving. At least 100 of thos representatives ended up scattered across the country and around the world, he said.
Within hours of the crash, representatives were compiling computer files on each person killed. The records showed such things as what relatives would be coming to Dallas and when they would be arriving, so the representatives could meet them. The representatives helped the families find a place to stay, identify their dead and take the bodies home. Often, the representatives went home with them.
"The person helps the family coordinate all funeral arrangements and transportation of relatives," Rollins said.
The scale of this tragedy is only a fraction of the one three years ago, but the pain in some families will be searing. Patrick Scott Morgan, 28, his wife, Barbara 29, and their daughter, Tiffany, 14 months were killed in the crash. The three were from Richardson, Texas.
"There may be more than one marketing representative assigned to that family," Rollins said.
The representatives only do as much as the family wants them to do Rollins stressed. "They don't force themselves on people." If the grieving prefer to grieve alone, Delta hovers from a distance.
While Delta's effort to help is unquestionably sincere, the compassion reportedly reaps a fiscal reward: fewer lawsuits. It's hard to turn around and sue a company that cares so much and tries so hard to help, said a former employee of Frontier Airlines.
Some of the company's compassion was evident at Salt Lake City International Airport Wednesday. As soon as Delta's Salt Lake officials received word of the crash, they went to the gate where the ill-fated flight would have landed and sought out friends and family members of those aboard the flight.
The people were taken to a nearby room - called the "Crown Room" - to be briefed on the accident and await further word. Delta officials supplied those waiting with food, drinks, telephones and all the information they got as soon as they got it.
Security guards were posted at the door to keep out the curious. When two passengers from the downed plane, Michelle Christensen and Jeff Stams, flew on to Salt Lake City later in the day, Delta officials told them that dozens of reporters would be waiting at the gate to question them. The pair reportedly told Delta they didn't want to be interviewed.
An airport shuttle met the plane as it landed, and Christensen and Stams were ushered off the flight and driven away to avoid reporters. The pair was slipped into the Crown room where they waited for their connecting flight to Rapid City, S.D. Guard remained in front of the door. Delta officials had dinners brought to the room and later escorted the two to their connecting flight.
"There's no way to train people to be compassionate," Rollins said. Instead, the company relies on its philosophy toward its own employees.
Delta strives to treat its employees like a family, Rollins said. That family feeling is part of Delta's business philosophy. Management's treatment, in turn, prompts employees to care about each other.
When disaster comes calling -- as it inevitably does to every airline -- Delta trusts that the employees it has cared for will, in turn, care for the frightened and the grieving.