This American Airlines Passenger Story Made Me Cry, But In A Good Way

Sometimes when you fly you need to pretend you’re a New Yorker. With the close quarters of Manhattan people learn to find privacy in a sea of other people. Everyone just ignores each other and goes about their business. When we’re all crammed together in a gate area and inside a metal tube, the best thing to do can be to avoid bumping into other people and live in your own bubble as though everyone else is inside of theirs as well. In other words, go through your travel day completely isolated even though you’re surrounded.

Yet it’s also worth remembering that everyone traveling has a story. They’re a person with joys and sorrows and there’s a reason they’re going somewhere. Even if it’s just South Florida or Cancun, it can be as much about mental health and connecting with others. You don’t know what they’ve been through over the last year to need a break.

Sometimes I’ll read the tweets being sent to airlines. They’re mostly a mess, but on average much higher quality and to the point than the dumpster fire that’s airline Facebook pages. These comments are great for connecting with how the average (albeit social media-savvy) flier experiences travel.

This morning I came across a thank you note that was so human I just had to share it. It told the story of one person’s ‘why you fly’ and about their very human moments with the airline employees they interacted with along the way. They took the time to share their experience in detail with American Airlines, even though the specific caring employees weren’t named.

Nobody went to great lengths to stop a flight, handle lost luggage or reconnect a small child with a stuffed animal. Instead, in the face of deeply personal tragedy involving the loss of a loved one, the employees they met along the way were caring and treated this passenger as a person – coming out of the bubble – caring rather than acting as though they were self-loading cargo.

I cried while reading this.

On February 4th, I lost my mother. In the wee hours of the morning, my phone’s ring startled me awake.

I heard the voice on the other end say, “It’s your mom, she’s not doing well. And, we can’t reach your dad.”

2200 miles from home, I found myself in a state of limbo and hyper-adrenalin. A series of calls later, my dad says to me.

“You need to come home. Can you get home? I head myself say, “I will find a way.

A few hours and several calls to friends later, I was standing in the airport disoriented and anxious, not only because of my mother, but because I’d taken the social distance measures seriously. The airport terminal held more people than I’d been around in nearly a year.

I found a space to stand, away from the crowded areas. I waited. I waited for news from home. I waited for the announcement to board the flight. I waited for a miracle.

My zone was called to board the plane and as I approached the line to give my ticket, my phone rang. It was my father. “Your mother passed away ten minutes ago.”

I felt every fiber in my DNA snap into a void. The tears would not stop. I hung up the phone without a word. Sobbing, I approached the gate agent. And something so kind and so humane happened. She cared enough to ask me if I was okay. I told her my mother just died. I was trying to make it in time…but she just died.

She offered to let me sit – to take a minute. But I wanted to just get home, so I continued, but I was a mess of tears and emotion. And then, as I was boarding the plane, the flight attendant saw my tears and asked me if I was okay. And I heard myself say it again. “My mother just died.” And with that I just collapsed in tears..and she held me up. My phone rang and it was my dad. Another flight attendant offered to answer it for me. I couldn’t speak from my grief. She assured my dad I would make it home. Every single flight attendant on that plane showed me the care of a mother.

It still hurts my heart that my mom is gone. And it’s taken some time to be able to write just this. I want to say the most heartfelt thank you to the flight attendants and the gate agent of my American Airlines LAX – DAY flight on February 4th. The care, concern and total empathy you showed me that day will never leave me. Not all heroes wear capes. But, there are definitely those that soar above the clouds daily. Thank you. May you each be blessed beyond measure.

This is exactly what the airline means when it talks about their new-ish slogan, caring for people on life’s journey.

I’m not sure this is something that sets American Airlines apart, but on this day and on this one particular flight the airline’s employees really took care of a passenger by treating them as a person with their own story and their own reason for flying that day.

Hopefully the American Airlines twitter team tracked down the gate agents and cabin crew of the flight and shared this story with them.

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. Gary, thank you for this. I was verklempt reading it. I know lots of AA FA’s. All of them to a man and woman are caring folks. Let us hope that the workers can re-habilitate the management view.

  2. I was so teaery I couldn’t finish reading it! I think this is far more often the case and compassion is shown more often than the brawls and bad behavior that get reported…people just don’t take the time to write and share about it, but I’m sure the story will be repeated to those in their own circles. The obnoxious people don’t realize if you convey kindness, you will receive it back. And they’re too arrogant and busy being miserable to others to take note. YEah, these heroes don’t wear capes…but they have wings…and sometimes just a good pair of flat shoes. Hugs to them all!

  3. After my younger brother died, I was a jumble of tears. I experienced the same compassion and care from my flight attendants when I returned home. I was humbled by their compassion.

  4. Oh my gosh… I cried as well but I am also happy to see gratitude expressed by this passenger to let the flight attendants know that their kindness did not go unrecognized. They have a thankless job at times and a lovely note as this makes a difference. Hope this goes viral….

  5. Thanks for sharing something positive for a change .
    So sick of seeing these animals fighting on planes.

  6. Thank you for this uplifting story. Next time everyone commenting on this column is bashing the age of AA flight attendants, take a minute to think about this line from the original story: “Every single flight attendant on that plane showed me the care of a mother.” The attendants are there for a wide variety of situations.

  7. After several disappointing experiences with AA, I began using other airlines. I understand that this story represents a single experience out of thousands of daily travelers but the consideration of these AA employees deserves giving AA another chance.

  8. I’ve had similar experience with DL and just this past year with AA. I lost my Mom as well, and did a lot of trips between PHX and PHL. The week she died, we were going to see her for the first time since April (it was August) but that wasn’t going to happen, she died a few days before our trip. I called AA and the representative was great, was able to rebook us to get us out to my Dad as fast as possible the next morning. AA was great, they crew knew why we were flying (agent put a note on our record) and we go extra support and attention during the trip over the next month.

    We all have bad days, there are of course bad apple out there too, but I have had great experience with AA pre and post pandemic traveling with my parents and in-laws in varying levels of health. Truly taking me and my family through life’s journey.

    Thanks to the AA crews and all you’ve done this past year. Brighter days of our journey lay ahead.

  9. Thank you for sharing this story.
    It made me cry and I remembered my similar experience some years ago.
    I had to take an international flight in an economy seat and packed flight
    I was so distraught the FA noticed and questioned me.
    They then moved me to an empty business class seat after the meal service.
    It meant a lot for the many hours journey and I always remember the kindness.
    Especially on each memorial of my Mom’s passing which was just 2 days ago.

  10. I am sure there are more stories like this, it’s just that we focus in writing most of the time the bad and not the good. After all, we’re human and we tend to not recognize as easily the good deeds as we feel so righteous and deserving, but God forbid if anything wrong is done to us, we tend to scream bloody murder!
    Glad to see that even someone in her grief, took the time to thank from the gate agent to the FA. That’s the most unusual story and something to be commendable of this lady. Her mother raised her well.

  11. Sam-the flight was LAX-DFW and then DFW-DAY. I know this because my wife was one of the flight attendants who took this woman from LA to Dallas and she told me this story when she came home.

    Gary-Yes AA management has tracked down the flight crews and gate agents that were involved and made them aware of this letter. It was much appreciated. Thanks for sharing!

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