American Airlines: Rising to the occasion

American Airlines issued this story about IAD:

There aren’t many situations that the American Airlines team at Dulles International Airport (IAD) can’t handle. As a sister airport to American’s hub at Reagan National Airport (DCA), IAD is a common location for diverting aircraft during inclement weather, which is why the airline’s team there has developed something of a specialty in managing irregular operations and other one-of-a-kind circumstances.

It’s also why American’s IAD team was well-positioned to rise to the occasion when U.S. airlines were notified that the Department of Defense was activating the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to transport evacuees coming from Afghanistan, with the first flights set to arrive at the Northern Virginia airport.

When Camille Didier, American’s general manager at IAD, began preparing her team for the task, she sought out volunteers and received a characteristically positive response.

“Like with every station, you get a feel, and our agents here are really good about stepping up, especially for greater causes. This was a station that [was here] for 9/11, so they’re really used to this kind of stuff, and we’ve been pretty lucky and very blessed, because they always come through for us. They really do.”

Two customer service agents who are based at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) heeded Camille’s call for volunteers, each driving to IAD after their usual 3 a.m. shift to support IAD’s regular operations while the airport’s team focused on the CRAF mission.

“My boyfriend actually served there, in Afghanistan,” said Lisa Young. “I wanted to know what I could do to help, and when I saw that [message], I was like, ‘Yes, I can do something to help, something to be there for them. My heart just goes out to them. I feel honored to be able to volunteer to do something — even behind the scenes, even if I never meet these people — to just know that I’ve done something that helps to improve their lives and hopefully give them some hope. I would love to do more. In fact, I was telling my boyfriend, ‘If they need a home, the answer is yes.’”

Arbi Pulaj, the second customer service agent who traveled from BWI, learned a few words of the local language so he could better communicate with those arriving. As a native of southeast Europe and attuned to the history of its refugee crises, he was personally moved to be involved.

“It’s just an honor to be one of the first people here,” he said. “They might see our faces first, you know? They’ve been trying to get out of there and see peace and see some sun, if you will, for a long time.”

Laurel Buck also traveled to IAD to lend a helping hand, volunteering to take a flight from her post at American’s headquarters campus in Fort Worth, Texas, to represent the Business Partner Operations and Support team.

“I read about it in the news,” she said. “Monday morning, straight off the presses, my team was involved pretty heavily. That’s been our whole week so far. I just wanted to help.”

That same sentiment was prevalent out on the tarmac, as the team awaited an incoming flight. In the space of two days, nearly 20 team members at the station applied to receive a temporary customs seal to allow them to take part in the work involved with the operation of the rescue flights. Also on hand at IAD was Capt. Keith Firmin, chief pilot for DCA, who helped provide on-the-ground, real-time support to the onboard crew.

“They want to be out here. I think everybody is proud of being a part of this effort, a humanitarian effort,” said Santiago Morales, a customer service manager. “They’re just happy to be here, I think.”

In addition to the familiar duties associated with operating a safe and successful flight, American’s IAD team proved its reputation for delivering on the fly by making a run for pizza to feed hundreds of passengers on one of the rescue flights, as well as the team members taking care of them.

Camille told her team about her phone call with the pizza place, saying, “You heard him scream into the back, ‘Y’all, we’ve got a big one! American Airlines!’”

The impromptu pizza run was just one of the many ways American’s team stepped up to care for evacuees on board. Before the first mission took flight, the team at JFK Airport in New York worked to provision the aircraft with everything from pajamas and wash cloths to diapers and teddy bears for children.

“We’ve watched the situation in Afghanistan unfold with heartbreak,” said David Lombard, Alliances Manager at JFK. “So when the time came to help, we wanted to do everything we could to provide a little extra comfort while on board.”

American’s dedicated crews are also making the CRAF missions possible, the first of which was comprised of volunteers from the New York base and led by Captain Tony Dettorre, Director of Flight for New York and Boston.

“It’s humbling to be a part of the national effort to care for and provide safe passage to those who have offered and sacrificed so much for the U.S.,” said Capt. Dettorre. “The hard work, compassion and commitment of the American family is unwavering. Without their tireless efforts both on the ground and in the air, these missions wouldn’t be possible.”



Behind the scenes: Supporting the CRAF mission

Within hours of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) being activated, the American Airlines CRAF Command Center opened. With departments and representatives from across the airline, the center is effectively a scaled-down version of our Integrated Operations Center, which carefully coordinates nearly 6,000 flights a day.

But the CRAF Command Center is singularly focused on supporting the Department of Defense’s rescue missions. American’s first flight arrived in the United States on Aug. 25. Ahead of that, this behind-the-scenes team — serving as the nerve center of our missions — went to great lengths to account for every detail, including preparing to fly to new airports, ensuring our aircraft were stocked with supplies to make the evacuees’ journey with us as comfortable as possible and supporting our crew members.

It’s our honor and privilege to safely carry American citizens and Afghan refugees to their home in the United States.

Images from American’s CRAF Command Center