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4 Top Airline Service Moments of 2010

Airlines are known for making their share of mistakes. Sometimes, though, they get it right. Here are four recent cases to illustrate.



) -- Guess what? As recent under-the-radar stories from


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American Airlines



US Airways




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show, airline employees often get it right.

That is a little known fact, because the airline industry suffers from an advanced case of crummy image. Most of the news you hear about airlines focuses on complaints, with airline fees a favorite topic.

By contrast, you rarely hear much about the industry's enviable safety record or its ability to transport about 750 million passengers annually, most of whom get to where they want to go at the time they want to get there.

While good service alone does not move airline share prices, it's fair to say that passengers prefer to book on airlines where the service has been good.

Generally, only two sets of people learn of good deeds by airline employees who went beyond the call of duty. The first is the passengers who benefit. The second is airline employees, because incidents of stand-out employee service are regularly reported in employee publications.

It is even possible to conclude that one thing that isolates airline employees from the public is that the employees are broadly aware of sometimes strenuous efforts to offer good service. But the pervasive public perception is that the service stinks.

Read on for four recent incidents of beyond-the-call service at the four biggest network carriers.

US Airways' Teddy Bear Tale

One day in February, a four-year-old girl named Georgia was flying from Phoenix to her home in Boston with her dad and her teddy bear, Bubba.

This is where it gets sad: Georgia lost the teddy bear in flight. "My daughter cried and cried night after night because Bubba was lost," her dad wrote in a letter to US Airways. "It was heart-wrenching to watch our darling little girl struggle to be okay."

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Dad wanted the airline to find the bear, and his request came to the attention of Pat Chilton, executive assistant to the station manager of the Phoenix hub. For several weeks Chilton made inquiries, but she could not find Bubba.

The father wrote: "This weekend a package arrived with a return address from 'Bubba's Aunt', saying that Bubba is now traveling around the world and could not come home," he said. "Instead Bubba's cousin 'Buckley' was here to stay with Georgia and take Bubba's place. Georgia was so happy and smiled for the rest of the day walking around with Buckley tucked under her arm. Indeed, she has slept with Buckley every night since."

Delta's Help in Tracking Down Mom

In April, a western Kenya resident named Sophia got on an airplane for the first time in her life so that she could attend her daughter Agnes' university graduation in Nova Scotia.

No doubt the trip was an exciting cultural experience, but one thing neither Sophia nor Delta anticipated was that volcanic ash would shut down Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport soon after she arrived. Sophia, "who does not speak or understand English, was lost in the airport with no way to contact her family," said Delta CEO Richard Anderson during a weekly telephone message to Delta employees in April. "Caught in the fray of cancellations," she could not get on a connecting flight.

Agnes sent a plea for help via the Internet, and it was read by George Bourgias, Delta service manager in Amsterdam. He asked Agnes to send a photo of her mom to his telephone.

With the photo in hand, "George made a special trip to the airport and searched face-to-face among the many customers waiting there," Anderson said. "He was able to find

Sophia, use his cell phone to put her in touch with her daughter, and get the customer rebooked on a flight."

American's Gracious Fleet Service Clerk

Following completion of a flight from Chicago to New York LaGuardia in May, a passenger named Don left his top-of-the-line


headphones on the plane. That's where Joseph Rota, an American fleet service clerk at LaGuardia, found them.

Rota also found Don's business card in the case and immediately called the cell phone number, then volunteered to bring the headphones to the taxi stand where Don was waiting for a cab.

Joseph Rota -- Fleet Service Clerk at NY LaGuardia

In a letter to American, Don wrote that Rota than refused to accept a $20 tip. "When I said I was going to drop it on the ground if he didn't accept, he still refused," Don wrote. "Then I asked for his favorite charity so I could make a donation and he said that wasn't necessary. He said he was just doing his job and thanked me for flying American Airlines."

The Small Favor from a United Flight Attendant

Historically, flight attendants are employed to assure safety, not to serve drinks and try to stuff your oversized bag into the overhead bin. Once in a while, we are reminded of this primary responsibility.

In July, a passenger named John wrote to


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to praise Denver-based flight attendant Wayne Hickey, who saved his life.

"I was choking on a piece of meat that I did not chew correctly before swallowing," John said. "This young man responded quickly and performed the Heimlich maneuver when I was down to some of the last oxygen I had left in my body. He then checked on me frequently during the flight to make sure I was OK.

"I owe my greatest gratitude to this young man and your company for preparing him so well for a situation that doesn't happen every day," John added. "This young man saved my life, plain and simple."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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Ted Reed