Caring For Unexpected Guests

At 8:45pm on Friday, April 26, the pilot of WestJet Airlines Flight 8975 was high above North Carolina headed to Toronto from Cancun. He declared a medical emergency and requested to land at the nearest airport, which happened to be RDU.  The story of what happened on the ground is a great example of the teamwork and customer service our team strives for each day at RDU.

Once on the ground, as the medical situation was being addressed, a flight attendant asked Police Officer Chris Day where they were. At the same time, it became apparent that the flight crew was going to time out, meaning that they had reached the maximum number of on-the-job hours allowed for safety each day.  Our staff quickly shifted focus from the medical situation, which was being addressed, to caring for the about 170 passengers aboard the flight.

Keep in mind that the flight was flying from Mexico to Canada and these passengers didn’t expect to land on U.S. soil. For that reason, many wouldn’t have had proper documentation to enter the U.S.  And, because they couldn’t be admitted into the U.S., our staff had to find a creative way to care for them without letting them onto the concourse.

Quickly, a plan was formed. In partnership with representatives from the U.S. Customs and Protection, the passengers were allowed to enter the customs facility to wait for a new flight and crew from Toronto, to carry them home. The facility had restrooms and plenty of space, but no seating or food, and our terminal restaurants had all closed for the evening.

Staff from American Airlines joined RDU Operations Officers Don Atkinson and Sid Bragg and Fire Rescue Personnel Dustin King and Will Patterson in helping WestJet crew empty the plane of all food and non-alcoholic beverages on board and with the gathering of other snacks and supplies. A makeshift snack center was set up on the counters usually reserved for filling out immigration paperwork. The USO brought in additional food as well as pizza.

Port Director Matt Ragsdale brought out the microwave from the customs officers’ breakroom to help prepare food. He also searched the facility for power strips to help passengers charge their phones. Our support firm, G-2 brought in as many wheelchairs as could be rounded up throughout Terminal 2 to provide seating for as many as possible.

One of the most extraordinary acts of service involved Police Officer Myra Parrish. A mom herself, Myra noticed that there were many babies and small children on the flight. She quickly left the airport and with her own funds, purchased diapers and milk for the parents unable to leave the customs facility.

Since WestJet doesn’t regularly serve RDU, American Airlines filled the gap and took care of switching luggage from the first plane to the second plane as well as servicing and preparing the aircraft for flight. And, throughout the six hour layover, members of RDU’s Operations, Law Enforcement and Fire Rescue departments stayed with the passenger, helping them to pass the time and keeping them informed of arrangements to get them home.

After the flight departed at 2 a.m. with many exhausted smiles and hugs, everyone on the RDU team stayed for some time to clean up and re-set the customs facility for the next days’ flights. Many of our colleagues will say that they were just doing their jobs. But what they were doing was graciously demonstrating the true meaning of unparalleled customer service on a night when unexpected guests arrived.

About Kelli Clark

From 2011-2014, Kelli Clark served as our internal communications specialist. She was our own in-house journalist and sometimes paparazzi, bringing you stories about airport employees and behind-the-scenes happenings. Kelli took off from RDU in July 2014 when she headed back to her roots in the Midwest for her next great adventure.
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23 Responses to Caring For Unexpected Guests

  1. Anne says:

    What a different experience from our last flight a few years ago, where we had two layovers with Allegiant (both ways)…….I think we were given a bottle of water and a bunch of excuses. I will never fly with Allegiant Air ever again. Customer service goes a long way; thans Westjet!

  2. Jim Gosse says:

    Incredible. Although, after being re-routed to RDU from Orlando a couple of years ago with my 5 year old daughter, I am really not surprised. Hands down, the nicest terminal I have ever been in, and the people were very friendly and helpful. I almost thought I was home in Newfoundland Canada.

  3. Pat Murphy says:

    Very nice story and good on ya RDU and our American friends. Guess we’re all part of the North American family helping when and where we can, just like during 9/11…

  4. Jeffery says:

    Bravo RDU! As a former WestJetter I can say that this is the most outstanding example of guest care I’ve ever heard of a non-partner airport extending in a case like this. Thanks all who pitched in.

  5. Clay Betker says:

    Even though I wasn’t on this flight, I wanted to say thank you on behalf of those on that flight. I found this link through a WestJet posting on facebook and thought it was amazing. Too often we get caught up in complaining about customer service and forget to acknowledge great customer service. Way to go RDU ! Clay from Calgary, Canada

  6. beckygraebe says:

    What a great story that embraces so many true hearts of service and captures the spirit of hospitality I see frequently at RDU. I’m sure no one on that flight will forget the unusual experience, but thanks to the way so many jumped in and practically tried to outdo one another in showing compassion and caring for their basic needs, they are likely to remember a whole lot more than the inconvenience. Great example you have set, team RDU!

  7. Steve Flower says:

    Boy, I wish WestJet served my city, I’d fly them in an instant. Thanks for sharing this – brought tears to my eyes. I haven’t heard of that kind of service in, oh, years…

  8. Anna Lupo says:

    What a wonderful heartwarming story. We need more of “these feel good human caring for eachother stories”.
    Thank you for sharing. Made my heart fill with joy, my eyes with tears and it made my day!

  9. Joe Fleming says:

    Nothing better then then NC Hospitality …. thanks to everyone involved both at RDU, American and WestJet

  10. Rebecca Collins says:

    I had a short but planned layover at RDU while enroute to NOLA last October. It was short but memorable because of the lovely folks there. It made me think about coming back for a holiday but now I know I will! Kudos to WJ, AA the staff at RDU, local fire, police, EMS, USO and customs what a team effort! You made a tough situation easier and showed true empathy. To be sure outstanding customer service!

  11. Jared says:

    I think it’s about time RDU service Westjet flights! Great job.

  12. Joseph Leung says:

    Hello friends at RDU!

    On behalf of WestJet, thank you very much for looking after our guests and our crew during the medical diversion. As mentioned in the video, RDU values exceptional customer services and you demonstrated this through your actions and kindness on the evening of April 26.

    We are very grateful for the support everyone at RDU provided and great to see the face of some of those who were involved.

    Without your assistance, this already difficult situation would have been even tougher to manage for our team.

    With much appreciation,

    Joseph Leung
    Director, Guest Experience and Operational Performance
    WestJet Airlines
    Calgary, Alberta, canada

  13. A Westjet Flight Attendant says:

    This is my second attempt to THANK YOU!!

    As a flight attendant I can only express our gratitude for you generous hospitality and kindness displayed by all involved! I am certain That all of you were greatly appreciated in ensuring the care of all affected.

    Your kindness and phenomenal display of caring for everyone is commendable!

    From Canada please accept our love and thanks for all you have done and continue to do.


  14. Warren Dunbar says:

    What a great FEEL GOOD story! Well done RDU and AA, and all others who participated! West Jet is my carrier of preference up here in Canada because of their outstanding customer service as well! Glad to see that same spirit alive and well elsewhere too!

  15. Brent Howard says:

    I was the captain of Westjet 8975 the night we diverted to RDU and wanted to pass on thanks to all of the great people who helped us out that night. Your compassion, understanding and teamwork was incredible. It made a very difficult situation much easier to deal with knowing we were being supported.
    Thank you on behalf of myself, the crew of WS8975 and Westjet.
    Captain Brent Howard

  16. Shari says:

    My husband and I were on this flight with our two little girls, ages 2 1/2 and 5 months. We were very impressed with the care we recieved from the West Jet crews and the customs officers and crews at the RDU airport!!!! This was an unexpected and difficult situation that was handeld with care. We appreciate all that was done to make us and the other passengers feel as comfortable as possible!!! Thank you for all that you did!!! We will continute to be loyal West Jet customers!!!

    Shari and family

  17. Drew Wofford says:

    This is an extraordinary story of people going out of their way to help. Every day the news media relishes the idea of a passenger mistreated or an unexpected lengthy delay. But they rarely tell the stories of how often people in the industry go above and beyond to help, assist and take care of travelers. And this is not an isolated incident. This happens daily across the globe as aviation professionals exceed expectations and make possible this wonderful world of flight.

    • Warren Dunbar says:

      How true Drew! Kind of unfortunate that the media tends to focus on the bad news, when these “feel good” stories go untold a lot of the time! Glad this one got out there for at least some people to hear! Cheers!

  18. Eric Grossman says:

    Thanks to everyone at RDU for helping out our stranded guests. I’m always flying above RDU on many WestJet routes. It’s nice to know what fine folks we cruise above are as fine as the scenery from 40,000 feet.

  19. Cam says:

    Thank-you RDU airport staff and the local police service and others too, for going beyond the call of duty. It’s nice to read happy ending stories. God bless you all!!

  20. Jim Bob says:

    Interesting. Same story around the same date in Wilmington. The crews must figure the passenger will get better health care here in the states!

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