Top 5 Airline Service Moments of 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- Two hours into a nine hour and 30-minute trip to Rio de Janeiro one night in August, a US Airways ( LCC) flight turned back to Charlotte because an engine warning light came on.

The Boeing 767 returned to Charlotte around 2:30 a.m., which explains why Charlotte-based flight attendant Elida Pinheiro unexpectedly found herself on duty, preparing to work a trip after being awakened in the middle of the night.

While some people may still view the life of a flight attendant as glamorous, the reality is that working as a reserve -- which means long hours of being available on demand -- is a horrible lifestyle challenge.

What makes this story unique, however, is that as the details regarding this particular flight get worse and worse, Pinheiro rises to the occasion. In fact, 12 hours after she arrived at the airport, the airplane was still in Charlotte and Pinheiro, a Portuguese-speaking native of Brazil, was still working -- not because she was required to but because she had bonded with one of her passengers -- an elderly woman who had recently undergone surgery, required a wheelchair, did not speak English and was temporarily stuck in Charlotte. Pinheiro "recognized that the woman was scared and acted as her guardian," US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said.

We live in a country that is overwhelmed by anti-airline hysteria, where any perceived slight or error by an airline or an airline employee is tweeted, blogged and posted, amid a chorus of outrage. In July, for instance, more than 100 stories on the Internet described a case in which United ( UAL) allegedly lost a 10-year-old child at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. In fact, United didn't lose anybody. But where is the outrage in that?

At every airline, internal publications each day describe incidents where employees go the extra mile to help passengers. But only airline employees read these publications, so most passengers are unaware of the positive efforts that are made on their behalf each day. That is why this story appears today to review the top five airline service moments of 2012, with one moment from each of the top five airlines.

A year ago, we listed the top five airline service moments of 2011 in a similar story.

In the case of Pinheiro's Charlotte-Rio flight, the second departure did not occur until 6 a.m., seven and a half hours after the scheduled departure. In flight, the maintenance light came on again, and the aircraft returned to Charlotte for a second time. The passengers were not pleased, and it was left to flight attendants to comfort them.

Following the second return to Charlotte, US Airways offered passengers hotel rooms and rebooking on subsequent flights over the next few days. Pinheiro worked with airport agents, translating as needed. In the case of the elderly woman, Pinheiro provided her cell phone for calls to a daughter in Miami, helped arrange for the woman to fly to Miami, and then helped her to board. US Airways rebooked the woman on Miami-Rio flight on American ( AAMRQ.PK), even though the carriers have not yet completed their merger.

Mohr said co-workers kept telling Pinheiro to "go home and get some rest," but she declined, saying she "just couldn't leave" the passenger she was assisting.

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