This American Airlines passenger story made me cry, but in a good way

Gary Leff at 23. March 2021.

When you fly, sometimes you have to pretend you live in New York. In the surrounding neighborhoods of Manhattan, people learn to find solitude in a sea of other people. One ignores the other and goes on about their own business. When we are all packed together in the passageway and in the metal tube, it is best not to encounter other people and to live in our own bubble, as if everyone else were also inside ourselves. In other words, spend a travel day in complete isolation, even if you are surrounded.

However, it is good to remember that every traveler has a story to tell. You are a human being with joys and sorrows, and there is a reason those go somewhere. Even if it’s just South Florida or Cancun, it can be just as important for mental health and bonding with others. They don’t know what they’ve had to endure in the last year to rest.

Sometimes I read tweets sent to airlines. They are largely clunky, but on average of much better quality and relevance than the mountain of crap that is airline Facebook pages. These comments are great for relating to how the average aviator travels (albeit using social media).

This morning I came across a thank you note that was so human I had to share it. She told the story of a man explaining why he flies and the very human moments he experienced with the airline staff he met along the way. They took the time to describe their experiences with American Airlines in detail, even though caring employees were not mentioned by name.

No one bothered to stop a flight, deal with lost luggage or reunite a small child with his stuffed animal. Instead, faced with the deeply personal tragedy of losing a loved one, the staff they encountered along the way cared about this passenger and treated him like a human being – coming out of a bubble – and cared for him instead of treating him like a burden they had imposed on themselves.

I cried when I read that.

On the fourth. In February, I lost my mother. In the wee hours of the morning, the ringing of my phone startled me.

I could hear the voice on the other end: It’s your mother, she’s not good at it. And we can’t reach your father.

At 2200 miles from home, I found myself in a state of limbo and hyper adrenaline. A series of phone calls later, Dad tells me.

You should go home. Can you go home? This is what I tell myself: I’ll find a way.

A few hours and a few phone calls to friends later, I was at the airport, disoriented and anxious, not only because of my mother, but also because I was seriously planning to distance myself socially. There were more people in the airport terminal than I had seen in almost a year here.

I found a place to stand, away from the crowded seats. I waited. I was waiting for news from home. I waited for the announcement to board. I was waiting for a miracle.

My section was called to board the plane, and as I got to the line to turn in my ticket, the phone rang. It was my father. Your mother died ten minutes ago.

I could feel every fiber of my DNA stuck in the void. The tears didn’t stop. I hung up without saying anything. Sobbing, I walked over to the officer at the door. And something so lovely and human happened. She cared enough to ask me if I was okay. I told him my mother had just died. I tried to get there in time… but she just died.

She invited me to sit down… for a minute. But I just wanted to go home, so I kept going, but I was in the throes of tears and emotions. And when I got on 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 burst into tears… and she hugged me. My phone rang, and it was my dad. Another hostess offered to answer for me. I could not speak for the grief. She assured my father that I would come home. Every stewardess on that plane cared about my mother.

It still hurts me that my mother is gone. And it took a long time to write this. I would like to thank the flight attendants and boarding agent on my American Airlines flight LAX – DAY on the 4th. I want to thank each and every one of you sincerely. The care, concern and compassion you showed me that day will never leave me. Not all heroes wear capes. But there are certainly those who soar above the clouds daily. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. May you all be blessed beyond measure.

@AmericanAir #AmericanAirlines #GoodPeople

– HeavenNezCree (@HeavenNezCree) March 23, 2021

That’s exactly what the airline has in mind when it talks about its new slogan: caring for people on their way through life.

I don’t know if that sets American Airlines apart, but on that day and on that particular flight, the airline staff really cared about the passenger and treated them as someone with their own story and their own reason for flying that day.

Let’s hope the American Airlines Twitter team tracked down the flight’s boarders and cabin crew and shared this story with them.

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