These are stories that would fit into any heartfelt movie, but they actually happened. Airport employees, although occasionally disgruntled, get to witness families and friends saying some heartfelt goodbyes that will restore your faith in the human experience.
35. Flying Commuters Are Sappy Too
My husband still works as a ramp/fleet service agent, but I quit in 1993. Back in 2011 it was either transfer or be furloughed for him. Because we had three kids in high school and the economy was bad, we didn’t trust that the airlines would still be flying in a year, so we elected that I would stay at home with the kids. Married for 31 years at the time, and never spent a night apart, except for short work trips, it was devastating. I drove with him to his new station, and as I got back on the flight to head home, I remember very nearly sobbing as I got on the plane and I tearfully asked the gate agent–who had no clue who either one of us was, to take care of him. What a sap! Seven years and hundreds of flight commutes later we have been in the same city now for four years, but what a horrible time that was!
34. When Family Just Makes The Goodbye Messier
This actually happened with my own family. We were at the airport seeing my dad off who was heading to London to visit family. The rest of us had work and school and weren’t able to join him. Anyway, my younger sister had been quite sick with the stomach flu the previous week and was sitting further away from us to avoid getting my dad sick as best she could as he left for vacation.
A few minutes later, as I’m sitting by my dad and his group has been called to board, my sister walks over to us. She’s walking a little strange but approaches my dad and I. As soon as she opens her mouth, a waterfall of vomit splashes all over my dad’s face, head, chest, you name it. Poor dad was absolutely soaked in vomit, and the plane was taking off in 20 minutes for a 10-hour journey. My dad had to rush to the bathroom to clean up as best he could while everyone in the airport seemed to freeze over what they had just witnessed. A nice gentleman nearby offered my dad a shirt he had in his carry-on, but there’s nothing quite like sitting on a plane having been vomited on by a sick child for 10 hours.
Sad in a different way, but nevertheless, sad for my dad. No doubt the people sitting anywhere near him on the plane.
33. No One Can Prepare For Unaccompanied Minors
Former gate agent. Grandma brought the little girl to the gate to fly unaccompanied back home. The unaccompanied minor was about 7 or 8 and clearly terrified of flying. I was largely pregnant and super hormonal, easily given to tears. After hugs and kisses in the terminal, I walked the unaccompanied minor down the jetway. She was still very scared and unhappy, and I tried to cheer her up. That’s when she full out started sobbing and told me that her daddy had passed away in a plane crash about two months prior. Wow. Thanks, Grandma! You think that’s something you maybe should’ve given us a heads up about?
32. A Reminder From Your Friendly Neighborhood Baggage Claim Handler
I was an airport employee, but I either worked around baggage claim or after security. So I didn’t see any sad goodbyes.
Just a friendly reminder though to be nice to people who work at the airport!
I know it’s a high-stress environment, but it was unbelievable how needlessly mean people were to employees there. I’m no longer working there, but I try to be extra mindful to be nice to people who work at the airport after that experience.
31. This Private Jet Flight Home Ran On Heartache
I flew a private jet to San Francisco to pick up a 5-year-old girl and her mother. The girl had a brain tumor and was in San Francisco for the last ditch effort to be cured. Unfortunately, the treatment had not been effective, and the plane ride had been donated to bring her back home to pass away. I don’t remember why the father stayed in California, but watching him say goodbye to his daughter broke my heart. At the time, My wife was close to her delivery date of our first baby, and this really tore me up inside.
30. Sometimes There Are Attempts To Intervene
This really gruff looking man comes to the counter with a dog in a carrier, he is talking really quietly and fighting back the tears. So we are trying to help him with whatever he needs and be as comforting as possible. So he says, “Yeah I just got a divorce and my wife who had a better lawyer got the dog in the divorce. She hates the dog and is only taking the dog to hurt me, and she is going to put it down as soon as she gets it.”
The dog is just sitting in the crate happy as can be, and he asks if he can have some time with the dog before the flight. So we say sure, and that he can take him out in the grass over there and we will come and get you at the last possible moment. So he takes this really unpleasant-looking but happy dog over into the grass and is rolling around with the dog. A big 6-foot tall man, rough as you can imagine, rolling around like a 3-year-old with a dog jumping all over him. This happened like 30 years ago, and I’m still cutting onions in here. Anyway, we offered to lose the dog for him; you know stuff gets lost all the time. He says thanks for the offer but his ex-spouse would hunt him to end of the earth to punish him.
29. He Says Hello, She Says Goodbye
A man shows up at the airport with two dozen of beautiful roses, says his wife has been on a business trip for two weeks, and he is there to surprise her and bring her home and needs help finding her.
He finds her. She gets off the flight inebriated and needing a wheelchair. We get her up front to where her husband is waiting on the checkpoint exit.
He surprises her; she puts her hand in her face, looks up and says “I’m leaving you, I found (someone name not audible) on my trip, and I love him”
She threw the roses on the ground. He picked them up, clearly shaken, said he couldn’t do this, said goodbye, and off he went.
No idea what happened after that. But this man was on cloud 9 surprising his wife, and she completely destroyed him in seconds.
28. Commercial Flights Are Easy Compared To This
Air Ambulance pilot here. A large part of our job is moving non-critical patients between facilities. The one day we had to take a gentleman in his 80’s from here to a town that was a 4-hour drive away. His wife had passed away a couple of months before, and his family couldn’t take care of him anymore. The nursing home in town was full, and the only place he could get a spot was in this other town. He had no family in this new town and had never even been there before. It was heart-wrenching to see him as he was forced to leave his entire life behind.
27. Don’t Make It More Awkward Than It Has To Be
I used to work at an airport. The best ones were the teenage sons and their fathers, who clearly never hug each other, but somehow felt obliged to do so in the most awkward manner just because they were going to be apart for a few days or weeks.
26. They Might Not Get The Chance To Say Goodbye
Years ago, I was a flight attendant, and due to weather, we were slammed with missed connections, late arrivals and everything else thrown in the mix.
We were loaded up and waiting to depart from the jetway, and after about 15 minutes, a woman was escorted to the plane. I led her to the last seat available on the last row, and we finished our pre-departure duties and took off. Everything had gone wrong that day, and if I remember correctly, we weren’t catered properly, so this added to my annoyance.
I took a moment to speak to the lady who boarded last, and she said she was going to see her husband and then got quiet. I asked her if everything was ok and she said he had had a heart attack and she was rushing to be with him at the hospital. I asked her if he was going to be ok and she said, “I don’t know.” I was shocked, and I don’t know why, but I asked her if he was going to make it and she looked at me and said, “I don’t know.” I realized she didn’t even know if he was still alive and I spent much of the rest of the flight kneeling beside her in the aisle, holding her hand.
I have thought back to that moment thousands of times over the years since then in moments when I get annoyed at people or if something inconveniences me or someone else as you never know what someone is going through.
25. Pilots Take Great Care To Make Goodbyes Easy
I worked the ramp at a very small local airport and saw a family show up to give away the family dog because it had gotten old and they couldn’t take care of it anymore. A pilot that works with Pilots and Paws offered to take care of the poor dog. Saw these like eight to 10-year-old kids sobbing as the pilot loaded up their buddy in a Cessna and took off.
That’s definitely my saddest.
24. Compassion Should Be Listed Under Their Job Duties
I used to work for a major airline at a very very small airport, which only four airlines total at the airport.
It’s like my third or fourth day, and I happened to go out front to talk to my supervisor about training, and this poor lady is bawling her eyes out. I mean buckets of tears running down her face. She has like 30-minutes before her plane leaves and all she wants to do is say goodbye to her daughter who’s driving in to see her mom. I asked if everything is okay and mom just starts crying more and says.
“It’s sad, but I have to leave, and I just want to say goodbye to my daughter.”
I told her I could wait with her until she arrived. More bawling. She replied that the daughter is almost there and she will be fine. Never heard anything about what happened.
23. There Is No “Standard” Military Goodbye
Airline employee here. The saddest goodbye for me is anytime we have to transfer a veteran’s body home. If you want to see 100 grown men crying here is the place. When that family comes down on the tarmac to say goodbye and the soldier escorting them joins them. It gives you chills and wet eyes.
22. Some Goodbyes Are More Final Than Others
Former airport employee here, last summer I worked at the international airport of The Netherlands where I would drive people around to their respective flights who were in need of assistance. Anyways, in my last week, I had to pick-up an elderly (85-ish) man from the check-in desk. He was accompanied by a huge number of (presumably) family members and friends, and as I told him he had to say goodbye because we needed to move on to customs, the majority of the group started crying.
At first, I felt really uncomfortable because I had no idea what the hell was happening, but after about 15 mins he told me he was going to Portugal to enjoy his “final moments in a beautiful place before ending it all.” I went silent instantly as I didn’t know how to respond to that, I’m still left with so many questions as to how and why.
21. Last Flight Out
The saddest goodbye was actually saying goodbye for the final time to one of my friends. He had worked for multiple airlines in the airport and was well liked by everyone. He passed away suddenly in his sleep, and it devastated everyone in our small airport family. His family wanted to bury him in his hometown, so we had to ship his body away. Basically, the whole airport had stopped operating while his friends loaded his body onto the aircraft taking him home. The whole ceremony performed was very emotional, but I’m glad he got to take to the air even after he was gone.
20. In Those Short Moments, Say Something That Matters
Worked as an airport employee for a while. One of my duties was to accompany minors who were flying alone. Well, there was this tiny boy, ten at the time, that I had to meet after his check-in. His mom checked him in; she saw me waiting, then she said, “Can you give me a few minutes to say goodbye?” I said sure, stepped aside, then she knelt so she can look the boy in the eye. She brought him to me after a few minutes, so I walked with the boy towards the gate. He looked sad, so I made small talk and told him where he was going and if he were meeting someone where he’s going.
Apparently, his parents are separated, and his mom is sending him to his dad because she can’t afford to feed him adequately and send him to school. She also can’t afford a round-trip plane ticket to go with him which is why the kid’s flying alone. He said he’s never going to see his mom again because he’s sure his dad won’t allow him to.
As a child of a bad divorce myself, his story broke my heart.
19. Everyone From Sales to Luggage Cares
I worked at Barcelona airport for a few years, and the saddest moment was also a goodbye moment. A couple with a baby of two came to Barcelona to visit the family of hers (she was Spanish, he was British). It broke my heart when we at the sales desk realized a “Jim Wilson” who requested Special Assistance was on the flight. “Jim Wilson” is the airline carrier code for a corpse being transported back home. So yes, the corpse was the baby of two-years who apparently collapsed for reasons I don’t know, and now was being sent back to England.
There were literally 30 people, all family of hers in the airport, saying goodbye to the little coffin. I never saw a more lost person than the mother and the grandmother. It was shocking, many of our coworkers had to take a break for several minutes as they could not stop crying.
Now I’m a father of a 9-month old baby girl, and I’m just crying remembering this.
18. Sometimes, They Don’t Want An End To The Story
I work at an international Airport in Germany. I was checking in an older lady who told me she has cancer and she is going to Morocco to get some oil that is supposed to help support the chemotherapy she is doing.
Two weeks later a young girl was at the airport demanding a ticket to Morocco crying her eyes out. It was like a punch in the gut.
17. Parents Are Bad At Goodbyes, And Some Don’t Even Do It
I don’t know, I mean we had a Family fly in to drop their daughter off for I guess a boarding school? In our business, it’s not entirely our place to ask directly or judge. Generally, we ask “What Brings you to <Airport City>?” but that was an awkward ride from the plane to the fixed base operator when the little kid realized Mom and Dad would not be staying with them.
16. A Witness and Participant
Not the employee but the granddaughter of the employee. My grandfather worked at Heathrow and was called into work the day that his mother emigrated to Australia (she was then 73, I think). We’d planned a big send-off – all the family was at the gate – and he had to rush over at the last minute, say goodbye, and rush off again. Harsh. I was too little to realize quite how awful that was for him, but I remember him being very sad for months.
15. Always Pay Your Respects
I’m nonmilitary, raised by military father. In Raleigh Durham Airport, two years ago it was dark outside, but I caught a color guard ceremony for a fallen Marine. Inside the airport, myself and a retired Marine (he traveling with small children) we stood silently, at attention (he did it better than me having been active Military) anyways we stood silently at the window while the plane pulled up, the coffin was unloaded and transferred to a hearse. I’m not sure which part was sadder, watching a fallen hero come home and standing there with another human being paying our respect or the fact that the rest of the airport didn’t care and just carried on showing no respect.
Sorry, maybe not what you meant but this moment haunts me, and I can still visualize the color guard, and almost everyone in the terminal making noise.
14. They Just Wanted Her To Get Off The Plane
I used to be a flight attendant. We had a senior woman traveling alone on a flight from Houston to Detroit. None of the flight crew noticed her during the flight, but she would not get off the plane when we landed.
She started frantically singing gospel songs when we tried to ask her questions. It took four of us an hour to coax her off the aircraft and into a wheelchair. She clearly was very frightened.
No family was there at the airport to meet her. Eventually, we had to call the police to have them take her to the hospital for treatment and figure out if she had anyone to care for her.
13. Would Date Again
I met my girlfriend online (in Guild Wars, long ago) and after a few months of online dating, we finally met for a 5 days city trip in Lisbon. It was awesome up until the moment we had to go home again. I bawled my eyes out for hours, and when I had to board my plane one of the flight attendants took me aside to ask me what was going on. Turns out the flight attendant had been in a long distance relationship as well, so they talked to me and were able to calm me down somewhat.
That was over three years ago. The distance is gone and we are now living together in my home country. Those sad goodbyes were absolutely worth it, even if they were gut wrenching. 5/7 would date my S.O. again.
12. Technology Doesn’t Mean A Thing In The Moment
I worked at an Irish airport in 2009, and that was tough enough, watching a 21 and 22-year-old heading off to Australia, etc. Parents and grandparents were breaking down as they left the airport. And that’s with Skype available. I can’t even imagine putting someone on a boat and knowing you would probably never see them again.
11. All Paws On Board
A marine was saying goodbye to his dog.
9. Tearful Explanations
I don’t know how the employees felt about it, but there are a few employees who witnessed a 6’3″ man in all black, black cowboy boots with spikes on them, mirrored aviators and a tattered cowboy hat crying his eyes out at Gate 3 while saying goodbye to his Irish fiancee.
I even lost it when paying the person outside the parking garage once. It was this sweet, old lady. I was choking back tears, and she made the mistake of saying, “Hey, are you okay?”
MASSIVE SOBS “I’m sorry, I’m engaged to a woman who lives in another country, and this is just really hard.”
10. Avoiding These Goodbyes Isn’t Possible
Whenever a fallen soldier comes home, and especially if that soldier had his or her trusty companion with them too. Seeing those caskets come out from the plane just punches you right in the gut.
9. Your Situation Seems Bad Until You See Someone Else’s Goodbye
I’m not an employee, but I was dropping off my long distance BF at the time and thought I was sad until I saw this other goodbye. It looked like an exchange student was saying goodbye to his exchange family. I eavesdropped a bit and heard him tell the mom that he is really grateful that they housed him and gave him this great opportunity to study in the States. The mom grabbed him and just hugged the life out of him while crying. I just felt so sad for them. It looked like he had really made a place for himself in their family and it was as if the mom was saying goodbye to, not just one of her own kids, but to one that she would most likely never see again. I hope they at least stayed in contact with one another!
8. Shoutout To Helpful Employees
Ok, I know this doesn’t technically answer the question… But here’s a little happy amidst the sad.
I’m in a long distance relationship (opposite sides of the US), and recently I brought my partner to the airport and was waiting to make sure he got through security (he has a history of doing things like accidentally throwing away his boarding pass and having to go through the whole line over again). I guess I looked sad and lost, and I sometimes get mistaken for a teenager when I’m dressed down, so employees kept asking me if I needed help. I politely brushed them off until finally explaining to one of the check-in agents who seemed extra worried that I was just making sure he got through security ok.
She leads me back to her counter where there was a window to the security line so I could flag him down once he got through and had one last goodbye through the glass. She even took pictures while we had a Kirk/Spock moment. So I just wanted to say thank you to the nice airline lady for being really sweet despite probably dealing with a lot of stuff all day.
7. Airport Employees Try To Make The Goodbyes Last Longer
The thing is I had to walk this kid all the way to the gate (took us 15 minutes) and then endorse him to a flight attendant who would be on the same plane. I figured if I came back, I’d find this kid’s mom, I mean she might have stayed until the plane took off. So I half-ran to where I met her, but she was already gone, and I couldn’t search the whole airport to find her because I wasn’t on a break and had to go back to work. I would have looked more, but I’m not allowed to check the kid’s personal info as it was confidential.
6. Seeing Goodbyes Every Day Never Gets Easier
When I was in college, I used to work at an airport in a smaller city as a passenger assistant during the summer. I would help people with their baggage or help push people in wheelchairs to their gates, etc.
On more than one occasion I pushed late-stage cancer patients to their gates who were flying to another city for chemo treatments. A lot of times family members would walk with us all the way up to the gate to say goodbye, just in case it was the last time. Broke my heart each and every time.
5. Airline Employee Celebrates Their Own Long Distance Relationship Successes
I was in a long distance relationship before my husband, who lived in the USA, moved to Finland and married me. I was usually the one crying in airports.
The first time I visited him in his city in the Midwest, and more than one person getting off an arriving flight stopped to make sure I was okay. One lady sat with me for a while and gave me a pack of tissues. The people there were so kind.
The worst, though, was when my child (from a previous marriage) and I took my husband to the airport after he visited us. I just wanted to curl up and cry, but I had a 5-year-old to take care of.
He’s lived with me in Finland for eight years now. It was really hard while the relationship was long distance, but it was absolutely worth it.
4. Don’t Travel With A Hateful Ex
I worked for the company that ran the food service in the airport.
I saw a man taking his young son to the boarding doors, both of them just sobbing, while the kid’s mother (who was escorting him across the country) kept snapping at her ex-husband to hurry up. As soon as the poor kid was over by her, she told him that he would NEVER see his father again.
I’ve seen airport security call an ambulance for someone not having a medical emergency twice, and this was the first time.
People thought he was going to end himself right there. The mother was getting some pretty hate-filled looks, and I think the flight crew may have considered packing her in the luggage bay.
I don’t have many details on this, but me and a coworker both witnessed it, and my coworker was a single dad himself, and he ended up leaving work early.
3. Pilots Strike Ruins Vacations and Chemo Treatments
That reminds me of a really sad phone call that I had while I was working in an airline call center. The pilots of the airline that I worked for were on strike, and we were rebooking people onto other flights the best we could, and refunding them if we couldn’t.
My caller sounded like an older man, and he mentioned that he was traveling to the USA from Canada for experimental cancer treatment. He lived in a smaller city, and there was only one other airline that had flights from his city. That airline’s pilots also went on strike.
I stayed on the phone with him for a long time and tried my best to find any way of getting him where he needed to go, but I couldn’t find a way to get him there in time. He thanked me for trying so hard to help him and calmly said that he guessed it just wasn’t meant to be for him. I ended up processing a refund for him. That call hit me way harder than any of the irate passengers who yelled at me for ruining their vacations.
2. There’s Always A “Right” Moment To Say Goodbye
I worked at a very small regional airport, so I dealt with passengers from check-in to boarding. Often the passengers and their families would stay together all the way up until boarding.
An elderly gentleman was dropping off his son who had flown in from overseas where he lived for a visit. It was just us three in the terminal at the time, and after check-in, the dad looked at his son and said “I have to go before I lose it,” and he hugged his son, shook his hand and left. His son stood looking out the window to the tarmac, and I could see he was getting a little upset. It was just us, so I walked over and asked if he was okay, he starts crying and says “This is probably the last time I am going to see my dad.” He then tells me his dad is terminally ill with cancer and he has to return to his job overseas. All I could do was hug him and cry with him; it was very upsetting to me even as a stranger.
1. Creation Of A Movie Ending
At the beginning of the security checkpoint, I was standing where you would normally hand off your travel documents for TSA to check. There was a person flying out. Her boyfriend couldn’t go past that area, so they hugged and kissed and said their goodbyes and see-you-laters. He waits from a few feet away as she hands her travel documents over. When she got them back, she turned around and they would both wave to each other. They both would turn back around, and the boyfriend would take a step. He’d turn and face her again, and she’d do the same. They waved again. This kept repeating on until they couldn’t see each other anymore. It was honestly like watching a really sad drama.