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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dear Virgin Atlantic

I want to commend two Virgin Atlantic employees for wonderful and heartfelt customer service that made a daunting task possible for me. The Saturday before last, I flew from London (October 22, VS021 from Heathrow to Washington Dulles) with my four children (ages 9, 7, 4, and 2) for a week’s holiday in the US. A last minute business trip meant my husband would already be Stateside and would meet us there. Our children are seasoned and happy travelers and we packed plenty of favorite and surprise books, games, and snacks to keep everyone entertained. But I was still a bit nervous about how we would all fare crossing the Atlantic encapsulated with lots of strangers. As added insurance, I’d asked for thoughts and prayers (novenas even!) from friends, family, and our parish priest.

Those well wishes and prayers were certainly answered by your crew. Thanks entirely to the kindness and service of Clare Murphy (FSM) and Yvonne (Flight Attendant just back from maternity leave), the flight was not only possible, but we were kept happy and comfortable and felt genuinely cared for despite being troublesome passengers. Clare and Yvonne will probably tell you that they were just doing their jobs and in that way, I know they’re right -- I suspect the true warmth with which they tended us is very much a part of how they treat all passengers. That we were the beneficiaries of being on their flight was our good fortune and I want them to know how much they helped me.

Without a car since moving to London last spring, our youngest child has enjoyed a life without car seat restraints as we mostly walk and ride buses in the city. At take off, she protested her seat belt in ear splitting, face melting, mortifying, heartbreaking, and maddening tantrums. We endured this with kind help from both Yvonne and Clare. It is notable that they asked me immediately what was distressing this small person instead of just trying to shush her, and actively tried to make her more comfortable. Clare suggested Yvonne stay close to us and help as needed as long as possible.

Once airborne, seat belt light off, a parade of entertainment, snacks, and naps followed for a happy 8 hours or so. B
oth women continued to visit and check on us throughout the flight and we were always delighted by their chats, especially those related to British football! The boys if anything, suffered from benign neglect while the girls and I snuggled in 2 seats. We were all content.

Then it was time to buckle the youngest again for our descent. She protested. Loudly. First Class passengers may have had their cocktail glasses shatter. It was like something out of a really bad movie. Only in the movie, the mom would be only comically rumpled or Adam Sandler would be the dad and it would be funny. This was all too real for an entire packed flight who had to sit with us and a crew who had lots to do. The descent began to hurt my 7 year old's ears and he started to cry. Maybe the hours of being good caught up to my 4 year old or it was just infectious, but she, too began to cry. And what is a mother to do, strapped in a seat out of reach of three crying babies? It’s true. I am not too proud to say that I started to cry, too. What a complete mess we were. Only my 9 year old managed to keep it together and I’m fairly sure he was just inking it all for notes for a future therapist.

At that very moment, Clare appeared with genuine concern written all over her face. (Maybe she was actually looking for a hidden camera hoping this was a spoof!) She knelt next to my youngest and stroked her little feet, talking in soothing tones. Then as if she were waving a wand, she directed us to rearrange our seating so I could be right next to the baby. Yvonne came too, helping with everyone. I managed to find one remaining lint covered piece of gum in my pocket to help my son's ears and my daughter began to sniff instead of sob. Within seconds, all was well and without a 2 year old screaming, I think I heard a collective sigh of relief from the entire Economy section. I’m sure if they’d been allowed to stand or didn’t fear breaking the now blissful silence, they would have given Clare and Yvonne a standing ovation.

And here I should say that credit too goes to the countless nice passengers who despite suffering through screaming, somehow instead of shooting us dirty looks, were extremely kind to me and complemented the children for being good travelers. As we left the plane I thanked Clare and told her if I tried to say just how much she and Yvonne had done for me that I would simply stand there and weep. I think there is something about parents in general, and maybe mothers in particular, that makes them look out for families with children. I am so grateful to 2 mothers on your team who mothered my clan in our travels.

When I was working I used to keep “atta boy” notes like this in a file to flip through on days when the complaints seemed to outnumber the praise. I hope this letter will make its way to both Clare and Yvonne as well as their personnel files on the odd chance they ever need reminding of their value to customers.

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