I want to share with you something that just happened to me on my last flight. This experience has grounded me, humbled me and reminded me why I still love my job and also why I love being an American. A great true story for this Memorial Day weekend. While I was in Houston, and while dealing with all the screw ups with the weather, flight cancellations and crew scheduling, I saw a teenager (16 yrs old) seated behind the gate check-in counter crying. I noticed her bracelet and realized she is a UM (unaccompanied minor). I approached her and asked her if she was ok. She did not speak English. I asked if she spoke Spanish and she said “si” (yes) immediately. I asked her what was wrong. Her prior flight to New York cancelled and the one we were supposed to be boarding did not looked good either. She was very nervous because it was her first time flying and she just wanted to get to New York. As I started talking to her, she told me her story… .she lived in Central America. She knew of an aunt that lives in New York. She heard of all the great stories of living in America and how well her aunt was doing in the United States. She knew that if she wanted a better life for herself, she needed to leave her country, family and friends and come to the United States. She left everything behind and how she got to the USA is a story on itself. With the little money she had, she paid some people and was hidden in a compartment under a truck. Yes, she was in a case, that is on the belly of a truck, the closest part to the road. It does seem that it is one of the most common ways to be smuggled into different countries as it is hardly found by the police. However, it is the most dangerous where it seems that quite a few people die trying. She finally got to Mexico. To cross to America, they got on a raft, went on foot in the middle of the night and worked their way to Texas where the immigration police finally caught up with her. She was taken to a shelter were teenagers that illegally enter the USA are taken to. While talking to the UM, one of the volunteers from the shelter came in. She explained to myself and my crew that, because they are teenagers, the shelter volunteers try to find a family member and/or sponsor to take care of them while their immigration status is taken care of. If they are not able to find a family member or sponsor, they are deported back to their country. However, the volunteers were able to find her aunt in New York who immediately accepted to be her sponsor and the UM was on her way to be reunited with her. The whole crew was talking to her. Some of the female flight attendants started to talk to her about safety, security, leaving in New York as a woman, etc. They were doing such a great job talking with her as well as encouraging her to be her best. As I was the only male crew member, I decided to remove myself from the conversation as I wanted them to have some privacy and be able to talk in more detail. Meanwhile, the volunteer told us that there was another sixteen year old teenager on the same flight. His mother left him when he was four years old with family members so she could come to the USA and make a better life for them. For twelve years she worked on her legal status, took many odd jobs and saved enough money finally, so she was able to send for her son to be brought into the United States. Some of us were getting teary eyed and it was too overwhelming to take. I turned to one my flying partners and said to her: “with all the problems that this country has, there are people that are willing to give up their family and even their lives trying to make it here rather than continue to live in the situation they are in.” We need to appreciate what we have. It can always be better, but compared to others, we have it pretty darn good. I wanted to spend more time with the UM’s, however the flight cancelled and the volunteer took them to the UM office, but not before some crew members pulled out their wallets and gave them some money to have for the rest of their trip. I went to my hotel and decided to take a moment to say a prayer for all that I have. I went to bed feeling grateful, thankful and appreciative for my life, health, job, family, parents, partner, dog, home… just everything. I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
Today I got to the airport and boarded the airplane and the agent told the crew we would have some UM’s on the flight. To my surprise, it was the same UM’s from the night before. The entire crew was so happy to see them! We were also happy that we would finally get them reunited with their loved ones. We looked after them for the whole flight. Some flight attendants visited with them and made their flight most enjoyable. We finally landed in New York. I took them off the plane and handed them off to the customer service agent. As we were walking to baggage claim, we saw a woman in a group, holding balloons and a teddy bear. I asked them if they were waiting for the teenagers off the flight and they said yes immediately. The mother was holding the teddy bear and she was just too excited. This was a reunion twelve years in the making. I assured her that he was fine and right behind us with the escort. I wanted to stay but I had to leave. I just get too emotional thinking about what that reunion was like. This is not an immigration issue…. well, its kind of. But the fact is that there are people from many races, genders and age willing to die trying to come to the United States to be who they want to be. This weekend lets remember that we need to be grateful for what we have. And thank you for those in the Armed Forces that have done the ultimate sacrifice for us to live in a country that allows us to be free, who we are and who we want to be. And I’m especially grateful for a job that has allowed me to meet great people from all walks of life, that has allowed me to live in different parts of the world, that has introduced me to many cultures, has given me many stories to tell and has given me a great quality of life.
Happy Memorial Day to all, let’s remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom! Who would you like to honor today? Let us know in comments or join our conversation on facebook, twitter and pinterest!