Southwest gives back, engages with medical transport program

Thinking of Southwest Airlines commonly brings to mind discount fares, free checked luggage, on-board snacks and a quirky, relaxed attitude about air travel. But to get a complete picture of Southwest, we need to add “a company that gives back in a big way.” This week, the airline announced that over 70 hospitals and charities from across the United States have been selected for Southwest’s 2012 medical transportation program, a grant system that seeks to lessen the financial burden for families who are facing serious illness by providing complimentary, round-trip airline tickets to nonprofit hospitals and medical organizations.

“We believe in making a difference, and we hear from patients and hospitals how important this program is to families who already are dealing with so much,” said Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines Vice President of Communication and Strategic Outreach. “We are proud that we continue to grow this program to provide this much-needed assistance during such a difficult time.”

Entering its fifth year of operation, the Medical Transportation Grant Program (MTGP) has helped nearly 19,000 people in 26 states with free transportation and will give out flights valued at more than $2.4 million in 2012. Targeted are patients who must travel for medical treatment, are facing huge expenses, and who appreciate any help they can get.

That could be the end of the story. Other organizations have medical transportation programs that also help people in need. But Southwest, the only airline we know of with a program dedicated to making such a huge impact, takes charitable service a few steps further, engaging the world in a very social way.

Southwest’s Blog invites others to make a difference too, through a partnership with photographer Robert X. Fogarty (@rxfogarty) and Dear World, a website dedicated to giving its subjects a simple and profound voice through photos.

“These emotional and impactful photographs help convey the message of hope, the importance of the Medical Transportation Grant program, and Southwest’s commitment to making a difference,” says Dear World.

Each person in the photos has their own story to tell and whether it is a patient and their family, volunteers, or Southwest Airlines employees, each chose messages that resonated with their personal circumstances.

“We’re working towards a beautiful, wonderful world where a Dear World portrait stands for something,” says Dear World. “People get that we’re connected and that you can build something fast alone, but to build anything great you have to go together.”

Here, photographer Robert Fogarty speaks to the inception of the program:

Southwest Airlines is the nation’s largest carrier in terms of originating domestic passengers boarded. Serving 73 cities in 38 states, the airline operates more than 3,300 flights a day and has more than 37,000 employees with a unique commitment to the triple bottom line of “Performance, People, and Planet.” They are profitable, have no planned layoffs, and through efforts like this, look to be an airline that will be around for quite some time.

Flickr photo by gTarded