As uneasy as flying can be for some adults, we can only imagine how difficult it must be for a child who has a fear of it. That anxiety can mount for parents who have to deal with their child’s medical condition while miles up in the air.

Erika Swart was traveling alone with her three children on a Southwest Airlines flight from Orlando, Florida to Newark, New Jersey. Without her husband there, she had her hands full. Her oldest daughter, 9-year-old Gabby, was experiencing some major anxiety as soon as the plane started to take off, and Swart did her best to comfort her from across the aisle.

Gabby – who is also diabetic – was so scared that she was biting her fingernails. One of the flight attendants, Garrick (Jovan) Riley, was sitting across from the family and noticed how distraught the little girl appeared. He quietly asked Swart if she was okay, and mom candidly responded that she wasn’t sure.

Swart told Today that Gabby made it through takeoff fine, and in a gesture of comfort, Riley offered her first choice of drinks for the flight. When her stress levels started going up again during the trip, he checked on her periodically, answering all of her questions about plane safety and the length of the flight.

He even let her hold his phone so she could track the flight through an app. However, when they encountered some rough weather in Maryland, Gabby was so panicked that she had trouble breathing and was in tears. Riley then offered to sit next to her, asking if that would help. She motioned “yes,” and he stayed with her for the remainder of the flight.

Swart was so moved by Riley’s actions that she posted a message on Facebook about the experience. Below is a photo and details of the experience:

This is Garrick, an employee of yours working flight 1264 flying from Orlando to Newark on Friday, July 8th and holding…

Posted by Erika Jeorgean Swart on Saturday, July 9, 2016


Swart shared that Riley was extremely attentive to her daughter:

He suggested they talk to distract her from thinking about the landing so they talked for around 30 minutes about everything from his daughter who is the same age to her pets to what grade she is going into. During extremely rough turbulence she began crying and grabbed his arm, he gently told her she could hang on as long as she needed to. Just after this due to the extreme stress she was under her blood sugars began dangerously crashing. He got up from his seat to get her an orange juice and came right back to sit with her. She asked again if she could continue to hold his arm while the plane was landing. He of course agreed. Once on the ground while taxiing to the gate he came on the intercom and announced that his friend, Gabby, in the front row overcame her fears of flying and asked for a round of applause.”

Swart wanted to thank Southwest and spotlight how Riley went above and beyond for her daughter. She made a point to contact the airline about her experience and the company issued a public message once the story went viral:

“Our Southwest employees are known for making decisions from the heart, and Garrick is no exception,” said Cindy Hermosillo, representing the airline’s communication and outreach efforts, in an email. “Our goal is for every customer to walk away with a positive experience and providing a bit of comfort during stressful situations is essential. We are thankful that Garrick was able to assist this young traveler and alleviate some of the anxiety that she and her family were feeling while onboard. We are proud of our 50,000 employees who demonstrate remarkable care and concern for customers every day and on every flight.”

Are you moved by this sweet story? Do you love to fly with Southwest and have a positive story to share too?