Heartwarming is not typically a word many travelers associate with airlines. Miles, delays, and fees — yes. But heartwarming? Not so much.
Now more than ever, some airlines are trying to change that.
Earlier this month, Southwest Airlines got word minutes before takeoff that the family of a passenger on one of its flights had a family emergency. The airline quickly reacted. A customer service representative told the passenger, whose phone had been switched off on the plane, to call her husband, who informed her that their 24-year-old son was in a coma. The woman was escorted to a private waiting area while her luggage was rerouted and her ticket rebooked on the next direct flight home. They even packed her lunch, all free of charge.
This act of kindness feels like a rarity, given the barrage of viral rants and in-flight horror stories that fill up our daily news feeds. With passengers policing everything from the gates to the skies, airlines are consistently making headlines for being the most hated, and not for performing mitzvahs.
Airlines for America, the association for the leading U.S. airlines, recently launched a campaign to celebrate the everyday moments that airlines routinely make possible. The campaign — via TV, radio, print, and online ads — aims to remind Americans about the seemingly elusive airline acts of kindness, like the ones featured here.
From mile-high serenades to airport wedding showers, these recent stories are sure to help restore some faith in customer service — at least until the private and startup jets touch down.
A plane full of strangers makes a little girl’s birthday
Mazzy the birthday girl on a recent Southwest Airlines flight. (Photo: Brein Bjorson Marzano/Facebook)
Four-year-old Mazzy Marzano, who has spina bifida, was flying home from vacation when Southwest Airlines flight attendants organized a surprise birthday sing-along. After she was gifted with a DIY crown made of pretzel bags and a cake layered with toilet paper rolls, Mazzy smiled in awe before blowing out the cabin lights, which served as the candles.
Airline breaks unbreakable rule for grieving family
Charlie and Katie Heitzig tragically lost their 12-year-old daughter, Grace, in January. The parents had booked a family vacation to Puerto Rico last fall and intended to keep their plans for the sake of their other daughter, and they wanted her to bring along a friend. Despite Delta Air Lines’ unwavering policy against changing the name on an issued ticket, a customer service agent named Peggy reissued the ticket for the original fare.
Couple says “I do” on the plane where they met
Vjera Mujovic and Stefan Preis met while waiting for a Turkish Airlines flight and fell in love by the time they landed. One year later, the airline hosted the couple and their guests for a wedding ceremony above the clouds. The newlyweds, who engraved their rings with their initial seat numbers, 5B and 5C, documented their 30,000-foot-high first kiss from inside the cabin of Turkish Airlines Flight 1082.
Pulling off a midflight Mother’s Day birth
While flying over the Pacific Ocean on May 11, Air Canada staff had to use on-the-spot teamwork when a woman went into labor. The pregnant 23-year-old was moved to business class and strapped to an IV, and, with the help of a doctor onboard, she had a healthy baby girl in tow when the plane was given the go-ahead to land 30 minutes early in Tokyo.
Four abandoned puppies find new homes
A sled dog named Pepper was alone when she was carried aboard a flight to Stockholm. But when she arrived, four newborn puppies joined her in her crate. The shocked Icelandair crew called a veterinarian, who said the puppies couldn’t fly before they were two months old. With Pepper and her owner headed on their way, four crew members adopted the puppies to save them from being shipped off to a shelter.
Proposing passenger borrows a cockpit
Former pilot Eric Greener used his connections to pull off a surprise proposal during an Alaska Airlines flight. After clandestinely making his way through security and buckling himself into the jump seat so he was hidden from his flight attendant girlfriend’s view, Greener took the intercom and started to share their love story. When his girlfriend recognized the tale, she spotted Greener on the plane and ran down the aisle to say, “Yes!”
An impromptu concert at 35,000 feet
Passengers aboard Southwest’s inaugural nonstop flight from Dallas Love Field airport to Memphis quickly discovered that their tickets doubled as one-of-a-kind front-row concert seats. When the seat belt sign disappeared, country music group the Black Cadillacs assembled at the front of the plane and played two acoustic songs for the flying fans as part of the airline’s in-flight surprise concert series.
Airline throws surprise shower
Photo: Southwest Airlines
When Andy McIlvaine gushed to Southwest employees about plans to propose to his long-distance girlfriend, the crew handed him a $100 travel voucher and an explanation that they are “all about love.” But it was after McIlvaine wrote in a thank-you letter that the airline really put its money where its mouth is: Southwest flew in the couple’s family members and plucked 100 passengers and staff to greet the newlyweds with champagne and roses when they landed in Baltimore.
Airline employee buys stranger a flight home
After a female passenger suffered a string of cancellations and found herself stranded, an Alaska Airlines employee wanted to help. The staffer, identified only as “Judy,” paid for the woman’s ticket home to Vancouver out of her own pocket and told the shocked flier to “pay it forward” when she thanked her.
Airport makes long lines less painful
Memorial Day signals the start of summer travel, and this year AAA estimated that 2.6 million people were preparing to take to the skies during the holiday weekend. While airports nationwide prepped for the bustling foot traffic, Chicago’s two airports, O’Hare and Midway, got ready to entertain. In hopes of offsetting the stress of long lines, they decorated the terminals red, white, and blue and filled them with the sounds of live jazz and blues bands on Friday, May 22.
by- Jackie Strauss