A priceless gift: How AA employees gave one passenger an extra day with her dying father

Feb 28, 2020

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As a general rule, flight delays are an annoyance at best, and a severe inconvenience in worst-case scenarios. But every now and then, a missed flight connection represents the difference between life and death.

TPG reader Lori Merriman Thomas recently shared how American Airlines employees went above and beyond to ensure she made her connecting flight, giving her a priceless extra day with her dying father.

“I am eternally grateful for your compassion and kindness,” Lori wrote about the crew members who helped her. “I made it home in time to spend an extra day with my Dad, who passed away this morning.”

Lori told TPG that her father had been in hospice care for four months, but that his rapid decline was unexpected when on Feb. 25 during a business trip, she received an emergency call regarding her elderly father’s failing health.

An AA elite member, Lori immediately booked the last flight of the night from Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Colorado Springs (COS) with a connection in Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW).

But Flight AA2784 from D.C. to DFW was delayed on the ground for nearly an hour, Lori said, who knew that her chances of missing connecting Flight AA2347 from DFW to Colorado Springs was very high.

“Not wanting to burst into tears in front of passengers,” Lori passed a note to a flight attendant named Deanna, explaining the situation and asking for help.

Deanna promptly went into action, working with flight dispatch, the pilots from both flights and local ground crew members to arrange a special ground transport for Lori. 

“Ms. Thomas — We should be at the gate by 9:50,” Deanna wrote in a note she passed back to Lori. “Our captain has let dispatch know about your situation. Ground crew at DFW arranging for a cart to take you to your gate — A23. Our thoughts will be with you on your journey!” 

All went according to plan, and Lori found herself “whisked to an awaiting AA ramp vehicle on the tarmac and driven to my gate two terminals away,” she told the TPG Lounge. After safely landing in Colorado Springs, Lori told TPG she took an Uber directly to her dad’s memory care facility, and slept in his room that night.

“Thank you to Deanna and the Captain on AA2784, and to the Captain and crew on AA2347,” Lori wrote in her Facebook post.

Lori, who holds executive platinum status with American, said her travels have been severely impacted by AA’s long-standing disputes with the mechanics’ unions. But because of her experience with the flight crew that night, “I vowed to never again complain about AA,” Lori said.

It took multiple teams and very quick work to make Lori’s VIP escort in DFW possible, American Airlines told TPG. Deanna spoke with the airline’s LA-based pilots, who contacted the Integrated Operations Center (IOC) in Fort Worth, Texas, for support. From there, the dispatcher then spoke with AA’s System Customer Service Manager (SCSM) and the SCSM team, who worked with the DFW team, along with American’s DFW Hub Control Center (HCC), to ensure Lori made the connection without a hitch. 

AA shared a statement with The Points Guy, saying,

“First, our condolences to Ms. Thomas on the loss of her father. In the light of the circumstances, our team wanted to assist. We appreciate the many American Airlines team member who went above and beyond to take care of Ms. Thomas that evening to ensure she made her connection at DFW.”

American Airlines told TPG that Deanna, the flight attendant who set everything in motion for Lori, has been with the airline since Feb. 29, 1984. In fact, Deanna will celebrate her 36th anniversary with AA this year — or her ninth, if you’re a purist about leap year accounting.

Featured photo courtesy of Lori Merriman Thomas.

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