Make-A-Wish Helped His Daughter. Then, This Southwest Pilot Returned the Favor

Aug 11, 2017

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The Points Guy has teamed up with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help dreams come true for children who are fighting life-threatening medical conditions. Since more than 2.8 billion airline miles are needed to cover travel for every child’s wish this year alone, they need our help to make that happen.

We’re sharing the stories of how four carriers — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines — are helping Make-A-Wish to grant travel wishes. We’re asking you to donate your miles — as many as you can — to help. Please visit the Make-A-Wish website, where you can donate points and miles from American, United, Delta, Southwest and JetBlue. And for every 5,000 miles you donate, you’ll get one entry into our contest, where you can win one of five one-on-one points and miles consultations with TPG himself.

Today, we’re highlighting a family with a strong connection to both Make-A-Wish and Southwest Airlines.

Chris Cavanagh’s daughter, Charlotte, was born with a rare, life-threatening metabolic condition and the first 2.5 years of her life were incredibly challenging, with the family making many visits to the hospital. Around the time her condition was at its worst, Cavanagh and his wife had Charlotte undergo an experimental procedure requiring a liver transplant.

That’s when Make-A-Wish entered their lives, as Charlotte was then eligible to become a wish kid. When she was about four years old, Charlotte and her family were able to go on their wish trip for some much needed time away from doctor visits and treatment plans. So, the family departed from their Virginia home, bound for Florida. Make-A-Wish gave the Cavanagh’s an incredibly memorable, all-expenses-paid-trip, including a round-trip journey with Southwest Airlines.

“It was such an amazing experience,” Cavanagh said. “It was the first time Charlotte was able to come out of her shell and not have to worry about things that had troubled her in the past.”


While Charlotte’s condition thankfully improved after the transplant, the family wasn’t done with Make-A-Wish. Cavanagh and his wife decided to volunteer for their local Greater Virginia chapter, which had helped grant Charlotte’s wish.

“It’s a rewarding process,” Cavanagh said of becoming a wish granter. “Being involved with the organization makes a big difference in my life.”

Then, the family’s connection to Make-A-Wish grew even stronger when Cavanagh became a pilot for none other than Southwest Airlines — the same carrier that had flown them from Virginia to Florida. Every pilot new hire for the airline has to go through a class, and the members of each class become a cohort — Cavanagh’s class was the 14th for the year. As part of the culture at Southwest and its desire to be involved in the communities it serves, every pilot class identifies a charity for which they want to donate $737, plus a small amount of change — $737 for Boeing 737s, the only aircraft Southwest flies, and in Cavanagh’s case, $0.14 for being the 14th class of the year.

The nomination process for determining which charity the class donates to was interesting. Cavanagh told the others in his pilot class about his daughter and how he’d remained actively involved with Make-A-Wish on a personal level. After hearing his story, the other pilots in his class jumped in and donated the money. The celebratory delivery of their check to Make-A-Wish on behalf of Southwest took place in the company of Gary Kelly, Southwest’s CEO.

“He’s a really great guy and easy to talk to,” Cavanagh said, adding that he was able to tell Kelly their story, why the 14th class of the year chose to donate to Make-A-Wish and about the special place the organization holds in his heart. Cavanagh hopes to continue volunteering with the organization and to somehow be able to grant wishes in his role at Southwest.

As for Charlotte, she’s doing much better since the transplant. “She’s doing normal 7-year-old stuff,” Cavanagh said. Right now, she’s really into Legos and horseback riding. “Every day, she does something that amazes both myself and my wife.”

Charlotte and dad in plane

In order to make more dreams like this come true, Make-A-Wish needs more points and miles. Of the 15,200 wishes the organization granted last year, 77% required some form of air travel, like flying Charlotte and her family from Virginia to Florida. You can do your part to help grant wishes like this by donating your American AAdvantage miles, DeltaSkyMiles, United MileagePlus miles, Southwest Rapid Rewards points or JetBlue TrueBlue points to the organization.

Once you’ve donated, send an email to with a screenshot of how many miles you’ve given to be entered to win one of five special one-on-one consultations with The Points Guy in New York City, where you’ll learn how to replenish the points and miles you’ve just donated. For every 5,000 miles you donate (regardless of from which program) you’ll get one entry into the contest, so the more you donate, the more chances you’ll have to win. You can view the official TPG sweepstakes rules here for more details. Donating can also help to keep the miles in your account from expiring, so if you have 50,000 miles that are getting close to the expiration date, donating any amount will keep them all active.

Stay tuned for more inspiring stories of how Make-A-Wish has teamed up to make kids’ wishes come true throughout the month of August.

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