Flight Delayed For Passenger to Visit Dying Mother

With all of the bad news and complaints pertaining to airlines these days, it is nice to know that common sense and compassion still prevails — and this is a story which has touched the hearts of FlyerTalk members.
The brother of Kerry Drake called to let him know that their mother Dolores in Lubbock was dying, and the time had come to see her one last time and say goodbye, as well as anything else about which he wanted her to know. Drake immediately booked himself on the next flight out from San Francisco — where he is based — to Houston, where he would then connect to the short flight to Lubbock. There are no direct flights between San Francisco and Lubbock — and the drive from Houston to Lubbock — approximately 530 miles — would have taken at least eight hours.
Due to inclement weather in the northeastern United States from which the aircraft was arriving, the flight to Houston was delayed 30 minutes — and Drake only had 40 minutes in Houston to catch his flight to Lubbock, which was the last flight of the day. While one flight attendant attempting to comfort Drake — who was upset and emotional, crying and worried that he will not get to his mother in time — another flight attendant alerted the captain of the aircraft of his dilemma, as well as the flight number of the United Airlines flight from Houston to Lubbock.
In what must have been an agonizing several hours for Drake, the airplane finally landed in Houston — after the time the connecting flight was to have departed to Lubbock. Regardless of the hopelessness of the situation, Drake ran up to the gate for the flight to Lubbock — where he was greeted by a gate agent who reportedly shouted “Mr. Drake? We’ve been expecting you!”
Drake was rushed onto the aircraft and he — as well as his luggage — arrived in Lubbock, where he was able to bid a proper farewell to his mother.
Do you need any of the extra napkins — given to Drake by a flight attendant to wipe away his tears — to wipe away your tears?
Airlines these days are cast as ruthless corporations with questionable marketing ploys and borderline deceptive advertising — and, many times, that often seems to be true.
However, gate agents — who are significantly more appreciated by FlyerTalk members after they had a few hours of service behind the counter at the busiest airport in the world — are under quite a lot of pressure to ensure that flights depart from the gate. If the flight does not depart on time, the gate agent is responsible and must follow up with an abundance of paperwork citing the cause of the delay — unless the circumstances are beyond the control of a gate agent, such as inclement weather or a “ground stop” ordered by air traffic control.
Gate agents are human — they just rarely have the time to properly express their feelings. Sometimes — while they are simultaneously doing several other tasks — they will smile and chat with you for few seconds if you are nice to them. Other times, I have seen them burst into tears when passengers are unnecessarily mean to them. Most of the time, however, they have an incredible amount of responsibility, as they must ensure the aircraft departs on time, the passengers are happy, and that there are no glitches or snafus.
Flight attendants and pilots seem to have more control to reach executive decisions — but they also must follow stringent rules and regulations to ensure the success of each flight.
In this particular case, it is nice to know that gate agents, flight attendants, pilots and the personnel on the operations team in Houston listened to their human side — rather than the corporate side of the airline — to work together cohesively and do the right thing. As a result, they conspired to assist a distraught passenger to see his mother alive one final time. They did the right thing — and they should be proud of themselves.
As a bonus, United Airlines gets some great publicity — and well deserved, at that. This did not seem to be some ploy to improve public relations. This seemed more like the case of human beings helping fellow human beings. A spokesperson for United Airlines claims to “make decisions like this every day” to “balance the needs of customers.”
Do not ruin a good moment, United Airlines. Bask in the warm light while you can. Houston, you had a problem — and you resolved it. Enjoy the accolades.
I wonder if the passengers on the flight to Lubbock knew the reason why their flight was delayed, as well as how long the flight to Lubbock was delayed. No one wants for their flight to be delayed, but I certainly would have been understanding if I were seated on the aircraft whose destination was Lubbock and learned that the flight was delayed so that a fellow passenger can see his mother one last time.
Typically, I do not reveal personal information about myself here at The Gate, but I lost both my parents within four months of each other several years ago during one of the toughest times of my life — and they lived far away from where I am based.
I remember all too well receiving both of those dreaded calls that the time had come. I was not even close to recovering from the death of my mother when I received the call about my father.
I was fortunate enough to have flown as a passenger on an airplane each time and arrived in plenty of time to be with each of them for a couple of days, when I was able to talk with them as I sat by their bedsides and tell them how much I love them.
Both parents were alert and coherent, which made it only more meaningful when they told me that they loved me too. I told them everything I had to say to them. I was able to watch each of them pass away peacefully right before my eyes as I held the left hand of each parent at their bedsides — and I had no regrets.
This one’s for you, Mom and Dad. May you both rest in peace…

  1. We had a major delay of our flight EWR-BOM because 2 elderly pax were connecting and then (reportedly) the captain announced that the ground crew had to shift the (baggage) containers manually, which delayed our flight almost by 2 hours…
    With the little I fly UA, it appears they tend to do this – not sure if it was because of the conveyor belts not operating or not…
    Nice story and glad to hear that United was sympathetic towards a passenger – but that’s PMUA, I’m sure – not the current management’s style.

  2. Very heart warming to hear.
    Several years ago I was in Sacramento on business and received the call about my Father, I flew to O’Hare, an hour away from my direct flight to GA I received the news that my Father had passed. As I sat there on the floor with my back to the wall crying my heart out, a Chicago Police officer stopped and asked if I was alright. I could barely utter words enough to tell him I was rushing home to my Father and that he had just passed. He stayed with me for awhile and made sure I was okay. That officer probably spends most of their day dealing with crime, it was nice to see the compassionate side.

  3. The heart of the story becomes obscured in the pathos and UA’s accommodation of a pax in need. The real “hero/ine” wasa middle level manager who took it upon him/her self to make a “command decision” that could have been subject to criticism from above. That sort of decision is never easy and comes with the potential of being judged to have acted wrongfully. Kudos to the decision maker who “bent” the system to accomplish what he/she felt what best.

  4. Sorry I don’t agree with decisions like these. For all we know, the delayed flight cost someone else from seeing a dying loved one in time. Prioritizing the needs of one person over a flight full of people is selfish and not a good moral or business decision.

  5. slackinormackin, I understand your point, except that another passenger MIGHT miss that last chance while this passenger WILL miss it.
    Would you concede it’s reasonable for the captain to explain the situation, and state that the plane will be held for up to X minutes unless one or ore passengers presses the call button?

  6. slackin – I’m thankful that you’re not a gate agent, flight attendant, or pilot. Remember that airlines typically overestimate their flight times by 30 minutes or so. This means that even if the Houston – Lubbock flight was intentionally delayed, it would still likely arrive very close to on time in Lubbock. We are not talking about airline personnel delaying the flight by hours….it was instead likely only delayed for 30 minutes or so.

  7. When my mother passed away in the Philippines two years ago, I booked an award flight to Manila for myself and my girlfriend. Unfortunately, I was stopped in Tokyo and couldn’t continue onto the Philippines because my Passport was expiring within 6 months.
    I called United that evening and explained my situation. The agent over the phone immediately rebooked me on a late flight out the next day, which allowed me to get my passport renewed at the US embassy in the morning. The phone rep waived the rebooking fees without question and definitely showed compassion.
    United’s earned my loyalty.

  8. Maybe times were different then, but about 30 years ago I was living in St Paul. I had an uncle who only had a few days left to live and I booked a flight on Northwest using a bump voucher to fly down to New Orleans for a day to see him one last time.
    About midnight the night before I got a call from NW reservations to tell me that the early morning flight had been cancelled and I was rebooked to a 10 am flight. The problem was I would completely miss visiting hours in the hospital.
    I explained this to the NW agent who put me on hold for ten minutes. She returned to the call to let me know that NW had rebooked me to the early morning Midway Air flight so that i would get to New Orleans in time.
    Living in the Twin Cities you were loyal to NW because they were the only show. But this was great service as well — and on a free ticket, to boot.

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