Top Seven Airline Customer Service Moments of 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- People often find out when things go wrong in the airline industry, but once in a while it's good to find out when things go right.

During 2013, a US Airways flight attendant spent an hour cleaning up an elderly passenger who soiled his clothes, then reached into his own flight bag and gave the passenger clothes to wear. A JetBlue (JBLU) crew provided a hotel room for a stranded mom, who was traveling with an infant and a grandmother in a wheelchair.  A United (UAL) crew reached out to comfort a six-year-old who was going to live with her dad after her mom died. And an American (AAL) pilot bought pizza for a plane full of passengers on a delayed flight.

Each year, we ask each major airline for a case where an employee took an extra step to serve the public. We reported these stories in 2011 and 2012.

Here's our 2013 list, starting with the story of Ben, a little boy who underwent several surgeries for a brain tumor, then lost his stuffed lamb on an Alaska (ALK) flight.
 
Ben's mom Lynne was flying with two young children from Victoria, B.C. to Los Angeles, connecting in Seattle. It wasn't until she got to the freeway that she realized the horrible truth: Lambie, the stuffed lamb, was nowhere to be found.

Ben and Lambie had been through a lot together. At four years old, Ben was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and his lamb was at his side through two surgeries and chemotherapy and multiple doctor visits.

Lynne turned around and went back to the airport, but agents couldn't find Lambie. Later, Lynne called Alaska, eventually reaching Jennifer Wade, a compassionate customer service agent. Jennifer spent three months trying to track Lambie down, providing Lynne with weekly updates.

One day, Jennifer called with news. She'd found a stuffed lamb. As it happened, she found it in a store and bought it.  But Ben doesn't need to know that.

Jennifer paid for the lamb with her own money, not the airline's money.

Southwest Employee Called 'Guardian Angel' By Mom

On a recent Southwest  (LUV) flight from Baltimore to Palm Beach International Airport, four-year-old Caelen was flying with his mom to his aunt's wedding, where he was going to be the ring bearer.

Caelen requires an oxygen machine and a lot of associated gear, and when the flight was cancelled the two sat down at the gate and his mom plugged in the machine to charge it. Chris Roth, a Southwest fuel operations senior inspector was seated across from them. Roth took an interest in the boy and began to chat with his mom. When Roth got up for coffee, he offered to get some for the mom, who declined. When he returned, "he presented my son Caelen with a die cast Southwest plane," mom wrote, in a letter to Southwest. "Caelen loved the gift and proceeded to show everyone around us his new toy plane."

Later, Roth helped the two passengers board. When the flight landed, he took Caelen to see the cockpit and meet the captain. Then he escorted the pair to baggage claim and provided another die cast airplane, along with a bus and catering truck.

"I can't say enough about your exception and kind employee Christopher Roth and the help that he gave to a single mom of a special needs child with a lot of gear," Caelen's mom wrote. "I would even go so far as to liken him to a guardian angel that day, because I wasn't sure how I was going to get through the day without help."

JetBlue Crew Offers a Hotel Room to a Stranded Mom

A JetBlue flight crew distinguished itself last month by helping out a distressed mom who was traveling with both her six-month-old baby and her wheelchair-bound, 85-year-old grandmother.

Flight 1146 took off Nov. 16 from Fort Lauderdale, headed for Richmond, Va.. The flight made it about halfway to Richmond, then returned to Fort Lauderdale because a thick fog made it impossible to land at Richmond or any intermediate airport. "I was in tears at this point, as it was 11 p.m.," the passenger wrote, in a letter to JetBlue. "The baby was getting fussy and I had sent my breast pump home with my parents and didn't have any of my grandmother's medicines."

About 1 a.m., the departure was rescheduled for 9 a.m. the next morning. No hotels were available and the airport was being cleared of passengers. To boost the stress, the passenger's cell phone died.

The flight crew found the trio sitting at the gate. The crew included pilots Matthew Vanderwel and Todd Dangel and flight attendants, Audrey Kerwick and Diderique (Dida) Konig. They had four rooms booked at a nearby hotel. They offered one of the rooms to the passengers, provided a ride to the hotel and got the passengers to the room.

"People do not do enough of this for each other anymore," the passenger wrote. "In the hustle and bustle of today's world, you don't hear enough about the kindness of strangers."

US Airways Flight Attendant Gives His Own Clothes to a Passenger

Last spring, on a flight from Charlotte to Philadelphia, US Airways flight attendant Michael Delano gracefully handled the problems of two passengers who encountered problems in flights. Delano, based in Phoenix, has been on the job for 30 years.

First, an elderly man, traveling by himself, soiled himself: His clothes were ruined and his seat was sullied. "Michael tenderly assisted the gentleman into the lavatory and with donated baby wipes, from a fellow passenger, helped clean up the gentleman and the seat," according to an employee publication.

"The passenger's clothes were so badly soiled that they were not suitable to wear," the story said. "Knowing blankets would not suffice; Michael then went into his own suitcase and gave the passenger his own clothing."

Meanwhile, another passenger became ill and also required Delano's assistance. "Michael continued to assist both passengers with grace and compassion, while still performing his flight attendant duties for the duration of the flight," the publication said. "What was so amazing was how Michael didn't hesitate to help in situation that was beyond undesirable." 

US Airways awarded Delano a chairman's award, its highest employee honor, for his efforts.

American Pilot Buys Pizza for Delayed Passengers

On Nov. 17, New York City resident Jack Rosenthal was aboard Flight 362 bound from Chicago to New York LaGuardia when a tornado-related storm accompanied by heavy rain and winds delayed the departure for about three hours.

"This was as different as could be from the horror stories reported by passengers trapped on flights held up for hours without water or news," Rosenthal wrote, in a letter to the airline. He said that Captain John Silverberg "gave frequent information updates. He kept the plane at the gate with the door open and invited anyone to deplane if they so wished."

After about two-and-a-half hours, Silverberg announced that he imagined passengers might be getting hungry. A few minutes later, flight attendants began serving Wolfgang Puck pizza to everyone on board. "The attendants said Captain Silverberg had paid for it out of his own pocket," Rosenthal wrote. "I'm guessing that there were 150 passengers on board and that the cost must have been about $200."

The flight took off about three hours late and made up a little time on its way to LaGuardia.


Delta Mechanic Gets a Passenger to the Hospital On Time

In September, Al Arendsee, a Minneapolis-based Delta  (DAL) mechanic, was on an Airbus A319 headed from Buffalo to Minneapolis when the flight returned to the gate. The problem was an "engine start valve-not closed message." Arendsee worked with the flight crew and his colleagues in the operations center to clear the message so the flight could continue to its destination.

When Arendsee returned to his seat, a passenger with tear-filled eyes thanked him. She said she was headed to the hospital for a lung transplant and had to make a tight connection in Minneapolis. "No problem," Arendsee responded. "I was just doing my job and was glad I could help."

United Crew Spoils Little Girl Headed for New Home

In October, after her mom died, a six-year-old girl, a first grader, was flying from Chicago to the Washington area to live with her dad. By the time she boarded flight 1103 to Dulles, an O'Hare customer service representative had learned her story.

Capt. Brian Applegate and First Officer Joe Williams, both dads, invited the girl to join them in the Boeing 757 cabin before take-off. "It was very emotional for all of us," said Applegate, according to an employee publication. "She was very quiet when she came and sat down. It took a lot of effort, but we got her laughing. We kept her up there until the last possible minute. She just loved it."

When a United first class customer overhead the crew discussing the situation, he gave the little girl his seat and went to sit in coach. Applegate publicly thanked him over the aircraft PA.

The Dulles based cabin crew looked after the little girl, who spent most of the two-hour flight watching a Scooby Doo movie. At the end of the flight, several crew members, including the captain and the first officer, walked the girl off the airplane, all the way to her waiting father.

"She held on to our hands really tight walking down the jet bridge," Applegate said. "It was just one of those beautiful experiences."

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

To contact this writer,
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