Southwest Airlines donates 10,000 round-trip flights to patients in need
February 24, 2017 - Dallas Morning News
Southwest Airlines is celebrating 10 years of providing free air travel to patients seeking specialized medical care with its largest gift ever: 10,000 round-trip tickets to be used in 2017.
“We really believe it is our responsibility to give back, and one of the best ways we can give back is through air travel,” said Debra Benton, Southwest’s director of community relations and charitable giving.
“This is a population that really needs help. They reached out to us and we wanted to make sure we were assisting them.”
Southwest announced Thursday that it’s partnering with 75 hospitals and medical organizations to distribute the free tickets to their patients who are traveling to receive care.
That list of partners includes 10 Texas hospitals, including the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Children’s Medical Center Dallas, Cook Children’s Medical Center and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
Southwest allocates batches of tickets to each organization, which is then responsible for distributing them to patients and their caretakers.
“We want to make sure it’s a reputable hospital. ... It has to be a hospital that people tend to travel to for special treatments,” Benton said. “We’re agnostic as to the disease. We look at hospitals that have specialties in lots of areas.”
Southwest launched its Medical Transportation Grant Program in 2007 after years of informally providing free air fare to medical patients. Since then, the company said, it has provided 59,000 round trips valued at more than $23 million.
That includes this year’s grant of 10,000 tickets, the largest amount given out in a single year.
“It’s allowed us to have a much deeper impact. Before, we weren’t able to do as much volume,” Benton said of the program, which has grown every year since its inception. “We’ve been really blessed. We can show it has great results.”
Southwest celebrated Thursday’s announcement with help from the nonprofit group Musicians On Call, which brings live and recorded music to patients’ bedsides at facilities around the country.
The group hosted concerts Thursday afternoon at airports in Los Angeles, Nashville and Atlanta. Southwest also announced that it was sponsoring the group for the first time by providing free air travel to support its mission.
“We saw that as a really neat opportunity to connect what we’re doing in the community with our passion for music,” Benton said.
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