On June 9, my station received a radio call from the inbound Pilots of Flight #612 informing us that there was a very special Customer onboard their aircraft that would be arriving in Baltimore/Washington (BWI) shortly. Lela Burden had wanted to fly her entire life. And for her 106th birthday, her nephew, purchased her a ticket on Southwest Airlines to travel between Baltimore/Washington and Norfolk--roundtrip in one day! As Lela was wheeled into the gate area by her nephew upon her arrival, an announcement was made to the entire terminal. Led by our BWI Ops Agent Karen Roberts, our Employees and Lela’s fellow Passengers sang her Happy Birthday, and we presented her with a certificate of flight and a bottle of Southwest’s finest champagne, to which Lela told her nephew “don’t open the bottle, it’s for me to drink later!” A few of our BWI Employees were lucky enough to be able to share this special day with her. Over lunch at Phillips Seafood for Maryland Crab cakes, she shared her wisdom and humor with all of us--we even learned that, up until her 99th birthday, she had competed in Senior Olympics. After she dined, we presented her with flowers and some Southwest Airlines items that our Employees were able to quickly gather at the airport. Lela could not believe the attention she was receiving. When asked if we could take her photo and share with Southwest Employees and others, she insisted on mailing us a "proper" photo with her Sunday best. I had the honor of escorting Lela to her return flight, and to everyone’s surprise, the outbound Flight Crew had already heard about our special guest and lined up to greet and welcome her aboard. One of the Pilots pointed out that Lela was born the same year as The Wright Brothers’ first flight 1903.
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Just in time for Memorial Day, the Honor Flight Network has named Southwest as its Official Commercial Airline. Almost every week at Baltimore/Washington (BWI) we receive the Honor Flights from all over the country. Honor Flight is a non-profit organization formed to transport America 's veterans to Washington , D.C. to visit those memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifices. While we always try to have a few Employees at the gate to greet the aircraft upon its arrival, recently, we were able to get extra support to show these heroic men and women the honor, respect, and LUV that Southwest Employees and Customers have for them. M ore than 300 people gathered in the gate area to greet these heroes - flags were waving, tears were flowing. After that, we had a successful trip taking the WWII Veterans to see their memorial, and our BWI Employees did a fantastic job supporting this very special event. For a video of the Missouri Honor Flight, Sarah Hill of KUMO Television in Columbia kindly sent this link to her report onboard the flight. WGN in Chicago compiled this moving video report on the Chicago flight. Visit these links to see other photos, videos, and local TV coverage of the veterans, their arrival at BWI, and their visit to the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C.
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