Thank You to the Special Airline Employee Who Helped a Woman With Stage Four Cancer – And All Of Us

There’s real good in air travel. As stressful as packed planes can be, and as much an us-versus-them mentality as many people feel, there’s real humanity too.

It came out in the Etihad pilot who turned around and went back to the gate so two grandparents could be with their dying grandson, and in the Delta Connection pilot who went back to the gate so a family could make it to a funeral.

Earlier this year there was an incredible story about a generous passenger who agreed to hold another woman’s lap infant after she boarded not realizing she couldn’t bring two babies along with her without any extra seats.

And what could be better than the two year old who fist bumps all the passengers when he boards a flight?

A woman battling stage four colon cancer checked her medications in her luggage before a flight to Nashville.

She caught an earlier flight, her checked bags were supposed to travel on flight she originally checked in for when turning in her luggage. Only that flight cancelled.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that you should never put crucial medications in checked luggage. There are only two kinds of bags: carry on and lost. The woman needed her meds, explaining that she had chemotherapy in the morning.

Since the bags finally came in after couriers were all done for the night, a Southwest Airlines employee drove the bags out to the woman at 3 a.m.

When Hurt found her bag, it also had an inspiring handwritten message.

“Sorry for the delay getting your bag to you! Myself and my Southwest family are thinking of you and wishing you all the best. Kick that cancer’s BUTT! With love, Sarah from PIT,” the note read.

The news, and the stories I cover, can seem negative — and they often are. Tales of airline employees can paint them in a bad light, but the truth is that even where interactions go badly most employees are just following the rules given to them and using the limited tools they’re allowed to work with. There are people who lose their cool as well.

To the ones who don’t, who go the extra mile, like the Southwest ramp agent who saved Christmas for a little girl in Detroit, thank you. Those of us who rely on you every day really appreciate the lengths you go, in spite of everything you have to deal with and that it usually isn’t rewarded by your employer if you work for a US airline.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Many if not most airline employees are people people doing high stress, poorly rewarded jobs. Many are unsung heroes day in and out trying to keep and make their world a better place. They deal with all kinds of people, some of whom are less than pleasant, to others thinking they are entitled to far more than the ticket price they paid.

    Imagine your self in their shoes when you see someone berating them for things out of their control or treating them like a carpet to walk over on the way to the plane.

    Cut them some slack….

  2. Lol. ANYONE doing their job without passion soon have a “high stress, poorly rewarded jobs.” To avoid them from quitting and creating more unemployment, thus labeled them “unsung heroes day in and out trying to keep and make their world a better place.”

    Just because your mother said you are the cutest boy when you were a baby, you are anywhere near goodlooking right now.

  3. Do the people that do good when they know everyone is watching genuinely good people? Or are they just better at managing their image in society?

    Is there really a “genuinely” nice person. Should that even be an expectation?

  4. The sad commentary of modern society is that all too often, unless a business can spin a situation for positive PR, employees are penalized for being thinking, feeling, and caring human beings.

    And kudos to the Southwest team for, once again, doing what the village needs.

  5. Since we’re on the topic, fun stories:

    1) Flew US Airways on MR to OAK several weekends in a row. At one point, as my filght was taxiing by, I got to see SouthWest ground crew waving goodbye to a flight as they backed away from it before it taxied out. Made me wish I was flying WN, even if the US FA’s were friendly enough on all my flights. Really speaks to the culture that even ground crew participate in this.

    2) This was an age ago, but I loved getting the little <3's on my boarding passes from check-in agents at WN. It's been *way* too long since I flew them.

    3) I have seen AA FA's move a passenger up to MCE for free, to give a new mom another seat to put her lap infant down during a 10 hour flight to Asia. Of course, the captain mentioned that they were a top rated crew during the announcements at takeoff, but it was still such a nice thing to see.

    4) Seems silly, but I love AA's little pre-packaged brownies on long-haul flights in Y. I once asked an FA if they had an extra and he brought me four of them. God bless him, I hated the rest of my meal and basically gave it away. He made my flight!

    5) Had an AA (well, late in merger, so maybe US?) check-in agent in Dublin ask how fast I could run to make my flight in 35 mins. She must have called ahead to let them know because that plane was literally waiting for me when I got there. Thankfully I wasn't officially late, so I did not delay departure, they simply weren't early. Several other agents had refused to print me a boarding pass as I did not arrive 1+ hour before the flight was scheduled to depart.

    6) Had an FA once on a flight blocked at 45 mins (actual time in the air was more like 30 mins, with 5-10 at cruising altitude) who offered me unlimited snacks. This was partly b/c I'm EXP, but she was friendly, it was a 6AM-ish flight, and we chatted about life and work. God, I wish I could run into her again, just to tell her what a fantastic job she did in making my day!

    7) The lounge agent in ORD and the EXP phone agent who saved my ass when I had a complicated itinerary involving 3 tickets as a combination of award and revenue, but managed to get me rebooked after a delay caused a misconnect in my itinerary. We ended changing from 2+ connections in each direction to a non-stop in both directions. Luggage got loaded onto a flight I wasn't on, and the lounge agent made *sure* it made it to Paris the next day so I had time to pack for my return (I was going to Paris to pick up equipment to sell in the US). She personally emailed me and when I saw her months later, she remembered me and offered free drink coupons.

    8) The lounge agent in STL who not only linked my own and my wife's separate itineraries together so we could properly request upgrades using my status on AA, but who also showed me the computer interface and some of the commands for doing so. I now can train agents to do the same, as long as they know where to find their Sabre terminal.

    9) Every FA who has ever put up with my requests or made small talk with me. It's not all of them, but a lot are very friendly, outgoing people who are excited to be doing their jobs. I love these folks and they regularly make my day in small ways.

    10) The TSA agent at po-dunk airports (like my hometown!) who are totally casual and so bored they make bomb jokes with the passengers during screening. Love you guys!!

    11) The AA customer service desk. I once complained that seat power in my row didn't work, but that while I was personally unaffected, the woman and her child in the other seats (3-3 in Y config, I think a 737) were screwed as they were counting on power to keep the poor kid's tablet charged. It was a 3 hour flight and he had about 40 mins of entertainment before his battery died. AA customer service let me know they reached out to the customer to offer them compensation (presumably, miles) and internally to have the power fixed.

    BONUS: The AA re-accommodation system. I was in ORD the day of the ATC fire, scheduled to leave on a 7AM flight. No chance of that actually occurring, of course, but no one knows that yet. Flight cancels, everyone starts getting re-accommodated on later flights. EXP's first, but I'm lowly Gold at this time, so end up on an early afternoon flight, I think around 2PM. The EXP's were put on 9, 10, 11AM flights that were subsequently cancelled. The system worked strongly against them, but very much in my favor. My flight was significantly late, but I made it to my destination, which is more than I can say for those poor suckers with EXP at the time.

    I try to report these instances of awesome-sauce service via AA's twitter team when I can and remember to do so. I figure it's the least I can do to let AA know when they're doing something right for once. These were just a few stories off the top of my head and I apologize to those I've forgotten that deserve to be on my list of positive airline interactions.

    @Gary – I wish you ran more of these positive articles! 🙂 The good agents are the ones that make travel enjoyable!

  6. @jamesb2147, I agree, I really enjoy hearing these sorts of stories. In college, I co-op’d at one of the US3 airlines. During this time, employees and status-level frequent flyers were given cards to mail in if an employee did exceptionally well. In the monthly employee magazine, there would be a section where selected complaints received either by the airline or the DOT, along with suggestions as to how the situation should have been handled. At the end of this section, there would be reproductions of selected praise cards received from the frequent flyers. This was always my favorite section to read. Some additional fun stories:

    1) My brother was taking my then-girlfriend (now wife) to the airport for her first flight ever (TWA ATL-STL-CLE) to help me drive home after a summer internship. My brother, newly 21 and never passing up an excuse for a drink, suggested they stop in a bar so “she could calm her nerves about flying.” Despite being a somewhat seasoned traveler, he had forgotten about the security checkpoint they still had to go through (ATL pre-9/11 was often very crowded with non-passengers either meeting connecting passengers or just going to sight-see), so they reached the gate in D concourse shortly after the aircraft door was closed. In this case, the gate agents were able to contact the airplane and get them to reopen the door to let her on the airplane.

    2) Flying round-trip PBI-ATL on Airtran with my 18 month old daughter infant in arms, I chose to purchase the 1st class upgrade both ways (based on my physical size (6’3″), her exceptional behavior, even at that age, and the fact that I already had to check 2 bags, making the upgrade effectively cost only $10). Trip up was uneventful; 1st class was full but she fell asleep when we pushed back and slept until the a/c door opened in ATL. For the return trip, there were only 3 people in 1st class and I made the mistake of trying to move her (while asleep) into the empty seat next to me when the seat belt sign went off. She woke up, but the FA spent a lot of time talking to her and bringing her snacks. My daughter had the best time with that FA. I know people will think I’m a jerk for bringing a young child like this in 1st class, but I knew she wasn’t one to scream constantly (even on the 9 hour drives to Atlanta we usually took) and I had a bulkhead seat so she didn’t have a seat to kick.

    3) I spent 11 months working in Connecticut with trips home approximately every other weekend. This meant a lot of travel either out of PBI or MLB to BDL via ATL, which means quite a bit of time on MD-88’s. I would love getting one of the rear exit row seats (back where the aft galley used to be on the DAL -88’s). I had some of the best conversations sitting there with the FA’s. Occasionally, I would have the same cabin crew on both legs, so the conversations could continue.

    4) During those 11 months, my wife and daughter (now 5 years old) flew up to visit over Easter weekend. Since S. Florida is a popular Spring Break destination for families with school age children (those whose grandparents are snowbirds especially), their flight was full of children. One of the FA’s was dancing down the aisle giving the children on board wings and extra snacks. My wife asked for his name, he got a little suspicious and asked why. She told him it was so she could write DAL and let them know how great he was doing.

    5) On that same flight, when the arrived in BDL, my daughter wanted to see the cockpit. Not only was she let up there, the captain let her sit in his seat wearing his hat. Since my wife’s phone was dead, one of the FA’s took her picture and texted it to us.

    As frustrating and annoying as flying is (from having my bag unpacked to prove my safety shoes aren’t explosive; quite unnerving since I work around munitions and don’t know what might be on my shoes, to the size of the seat and legroom offered, etc.) I try to remember times like those mentioned above and try to remain friendly and patient with everyone.

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