This is a story about a kind and very generous thing that American Airlines did for a special needs passenger.
Yes, that's right. American Airlines.
I hate to be cynical, but let's confront this upfront: the fact that this was American Airlines (technically PSA Airlines, a subsidiary of American operating as American Eagle), makes the story even more poignant.
We'll get to that in a minute. But first, here's what happened.
Meet Deanna Miller Berry, and her daughter Shantell "Princess" Pooser. They're frequent fliers on American, going back and forth from their home in Columbia, S.C. to Cincinnati.
Unfortunately, the reason for the trips is that Princess, as she prefers to be called, who just turned 17, has several terminal medical conditions in addition to Down Syndrome. She and her mom have flown more than 50 times so she could have surgeries at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
Princess has already beaten the odds by fighting her condition this long, and so her mother told me this week that she tries to make her birthdays extra special.
Thus, when Princess talked earlier this year about how much she liked the flight attendants on their travels, and that she even wanted to be one, Berry decided on an airline-themed birthday.
Her plan was simple: make a homemade flight attendant uniform for Princess, and decorate the room to look like an airplane. She sent a letter to American Airlines asking for "a box of trinkets," as she put it--American Airlines-branded stuff--to make the whole thing more realistic.
This is where the airline stepped up.
Their response came first in the form of a phone call from Capt. Matthew Coelyn, who had been the pilot on many of the flights Berry and Princess had taken. He said they wanted to help--not just by sending swag, but by donating the use of a real American Eagle CRJ900 jet for the party.
It happened last week. Princess, along with 71 of her family and friends, many of whom also have special needs and attend school with her, boarded the plane at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The party lasted roughly two hours, including Princess acting as a flight attendant (in a real uniform).
"They actually inducted her as the first honorary flight attendant with a terminal illness and special needs," her mother told me when we talked this week. "She greeted guests as they got on board, made sure their seat belts were correct, they let her do the safety briefing with help from another flight attendant."
Of course, there was cake. And they went on a pretend "trip to Cincinatti," which involved the plane taxiing around the Columbia airport and eventually returning to the gate.
A short journey, but it was enough. All you have to do is see the expression on her face to know how much this meant to her.
The airline is rightfully proud of what they did, and they were careful to give me the names of all the employees involved, besides Coelyn: First Officer Anthony Maggiore, along with flight attendants Valarie Butler, Cassandra Francis, and Priscilla Moore.
It's all very nice. Still, I had a lot of questions.
For example, what does it cost to pull a jet out of service like this for a party?
The airline declined to say. But even "just" chartering a private jet for a few hours would cost a few thousand dollars, at least. This has to be even more expensive.
I also wondered about the fact that this sounds very similar to another story I covered recently, about a Southwest flight attendant who also helped a special needs passenger fulfill her dream of being a flight attendant for a day.
It turned out the planning for Princess's party began long before the Southwest gesture happened.
To put it nicely, they have an uphill climb when it comes to passenger perception. And that's why I think this story is just as important as it is nice.
Because if you're running a business, these kinds of gestures go far beyond the immediate cost or benefit. They go to the intrinsic, qualitative impressions that people have of you, and the relationship they form with your brand.
That's important, unless you're happy turning your product or service into a pure commodity.
Because as Maya Angelou once said, "People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel."
On this day, American Airlines made a young woman and her family feel great. And I'll bet you feel a tiny bit better about the airline too, just for having known that it happened.