I wanted to write you about an experience I had recently in the American Airline terminal in the Philadelphia Airport, involving one of your wheelchair assists: Ms. Lilibeth Herrera.
I am in my early seventies, with bad feet, and a very limited budget. When I came to Philadelphia recently to attend my niece’s wedding, I was well aware of how large the airport is, and worried about the logistics of getting from the plane to the baggage area coming in, and the baggage area to the plane returning home.
I realized that while I am able to walk short distances on my own in my everyday life, there was no way I could walk that kind of a distance, and was going to need a wheelchair assist.
Before leaving home I searched the internet to see what would be considered a fair tip to those who spent their days wheeling people from gate to gate or baggage claim, and found a wide range of answers. Assuming that one person would be taking me from point “A” to point “B” I set aside tip money for the two airport interactions.
Prepared as I was, I wasn’t prepared for the fact that I wouldn’t have one person wheeling me from point “A” to point “B” but four different people each way. That’s eight tips, if you’re counting…with even a modest tip for each adding up to a goodly sum.
By the time I got to the gate on the morning of October 23rd, I had tipped four different people to take me from check-in to the gate, and while I had been told that the gate was close to the food court and women’s rest room, (which may have been true for someone who could walk a block or two or three) it was anything but close for someone like myself, as the Piedmont puddle-jumper flying under the American Airlines banner was set to depart from the very last gate.
My brother, who had a previous commitment close to my fight time, had left me off at the airport quite early, and with four long hours between my arrival at the gate and my departure, I knew I would need to use the ladies’ rest room facilities at least once, and perhaps more, and also make a stop at the food court before getting on the plane so that I would have something to eat between a very early breakfast and my Memphis arrival time of close to 4 p.m. Philadelphia time.
What to do, what to do? I had already spent far more than planned on tips, and far more than my budget would allow.
As I looked around, I saw a couple of young women not far from the gate, who were standing with their wheelchairs, in ready. I went up to one of them, a pretty young woman named Lilibeth Herrera, and explained my predicament to her.
I know her name, because before I boarded the plane I asked her for it – and for your names as well, because she was so kind, so genuine, and so helpful to me, that she made all the other eight wheelchair assistance interactions pale in comparison.
As I said, I told her about having to have already tipped four people that day, and needing to use the facilities – not once, but most likely twice before I left, as well as needing to stop at the food court just prior to boarding.
She told me not to worry – no tip needed, she would be happy to take me wherever I needed to go, whenever I needed to go.
In a world where so few people take the time to be kind, she was a bright spot. She took me to the rest room, then back to the gate, and said she would return to see how I was doing a bit later so that she could take me wherever I needed to go. No charge.
And so she did, returning about thirty minutes before boarding to take me to the rest room and then on to the food court, while she waited for me to buy a take-out salad, before returning me to my gate.
I only had a few dollars on hand, but wanted to give her more than that. I wanted to do something that would make a difference in her life, as she had made in mine.
I felt that a letter to her superior(s) would do far more than any amount of money I could spare, because I thought that they (you) should know how lucky they (you) are to have someone like her on their (your) team.
And so I asked her for the name and addresses of those to whom she reports, and told her that I would send them a letter if it was okay with her. She said it was, and wrote your names and contact addresses on a piece of paper, which I managed to misplace until this morning. Thus the delay.
While she was driving me to the food court I asked her where she was from, and I believe she said that she was from Venezuela ─ a long way from Philadelphia. Philadelphia- the city I grew up in – used to be known as “the city of brotherly love.” I don’t know if it still is or not. But this young woman exemplified that truism in the very best way.
I hope you will recognize her for her work. For doing something with the expectation of getting nothing in return but my gratitude. The other aids who drove me here and there were a haphazard lot. One was so anxious to get where he was going that he didn’t wait for me to put my foot on the foot stand, and rode over it while we were still on the tarmac. He only stopped when I let out a yelp. It’s amazing he didn’t break my foot. Others along the way─particularly the man who drove the electric cart/wheelchair, zoomed down the crowded walkway at such a speed, that if I were truly handicapped – paralyzed, or having had a stroke or something similar, I could very well have fallen out from under my seat belt. All of which makes Ms. Herrera’s attitude and care that much more noteworthy.
She truly was remarkable.