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.
— HeavenNezCree 💙 (@HeavenNezCree) March 23, 2021
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.