Sniff! I love hearing stories like this, and they usually pop up right when I’m starting to feel particularly grim about humanity (or airlines!). In order to make sure a man got to his dying mom’s side in time to say goodbye, United Airlines did something that usually makes us all mad but, this time, was a really good deed: they delayed an entire flight.
Kerry Drake’s mom had been ill for years with rheumatoid arthritis, and had been especially ill for a few months. When Drake got the phone call that she had taken a sudden turn for the worse, he immediately booked a flight on United from San Francisco to Lubbock, Texas, where his mom lay dying in the hospital. He only had 40 minutes to make a connection in Houston; otherwise, he’d miss the last flight to Lubbock (surely there’s a country song in there somewhere).
But when his flight out of SFO was delayed, Drake broke down crying, knowing he’d very likely miss his connection and his chance to see his mom one last time.
What happened next makes ME want to cry! Flight attendants brought Drake napkins to dry his tears and promised they’d try to help. And help they did -- they told the pilot about Drake’s situation, and he radioed ahead to the Lubbock crew who, in turn, delayed their takeoff to wait for Drake.
Have you ever heard of such a thing? Especially in recent years, it seems like the pressure from the top down at airline companies is to herd as many people onto planes as possible and get them to their destinations as close to on time as possible -- never mind niceties like compassion and understanding! (I speak from experience; I had a terrible time recently: An airline, not United, charged me an arm and a leg to make same-day flight home to California when my little sister passed away suddenly -- they even charged me an extra $25 to make the reservation over the phone. Are you kidding me?! I didn't receive an ounce of compassion at any corner. But I digress -- back to this sweet story ...)
When Drake got off the airport train in Houston (it’s a BIG airport, y’all!) and was running toward the gate, he says, "I was still like maybe 20 yards away when I heard the gate agent say, 'Mr. Drake, we've been expecting you.'" Awww!!!!
The ground crew in Houston even made sure his luggage made it to Lubbock with him, and Drake was able to get to the hospital and spend the night at his mother's side. "At one point she opened her eyes, and I think she recognized me," he said. "Around 4 a.m. she had a real moment of coherence, a last rally, although we didn't know it at the time. It was the last time."
She died the next morning, her son at her side.
Drake was so grateful and moved by the way those United folks treated him that he wrote a letter to the airline, which is SUCH a good thing to do. So often we only take time to complain about crummy customer service or bad experiences, but you can really make a difference doing the opposite. Drake’s letter made it to the United Airlines employee newsletter, which makes me so happy, because it means a big corporation gave appreciation and encouragement to a group of people who acted with human decency and kindness and held them up as examples for the rest of their company.
Thank you, United Airlines! What a great thing to do for a man, and for his mama.
Have you ever had a great airline experience like this?
Image via eugeni_dodonov/Flickr