Airline holds flight to help man reach dying mother's bedside

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By Scott Stump

It was only a matter of minutes, but Kerry Drake will forever be grateful for the precious sliver of time.

On Jan. 24, the San Francisco man booked the first possible flight to Lubbock, Texas, via a connection in Houston after his brother informed him that their mother Dolores was dying and might not make it another 24 hours. However, his United Airlines flight to Houston experienced a 30-minute delay coming out of San Francisco, leaving him distraught that he might not be able to be with his mother in her final hours.

As he sat on the plane trying to deal with his emotions, flight attendant Sofia Linares brought him napkins to dab his tears while fellow flight attendant Lan Chung relayed his flight number to the captain. When the plane landed in Houston, it appeared as if Drake would miss his connection, which was the last plane to Lubbock for the day. He needed to take an air train to another terminal just to reach the gate for his connection and figured it would be too late.

But when he arrived, he received an unexpected gift.

“What I felt was just an amazing relief when I turned the corner and the gate agent called my name out and said they had been expecting me,’’ Drake told “It was the first time I realized that they had all conspired to make sure I was going to get there.’’

Drake found out that United employees had held the flight from Houston to Lubbock for him, “only 15 or 20 minutes, if that,’’ he said.

He made it to his mother's bedside at a Lubbock hospital in time to be with her during her last hours, and was sitting with his father in the middle of the night when they witnessed her final moments of coherence before her death. Dolores Drake died at age 76 in the early morning hours of Jan. 25, after having suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for much of her life and being worn down by the drugs used to treat her condition.

“(United) went above and beyond,’’ Drake said. “It was a matter of minutes, but it made all the difference in the world. That really blew me away.’’

His luggage also managed to make it on the connecting flight, and he said he heard no complaints of any kind from the passengers waiting on board. The airline did not receive any formal complaints from other passengers regarding the short delay, United spokesperson Megan McCarthy told

“I've heard anecdotally of this happening before, but it’s rare,’’ McCarthy said of the flight being held for special circumstances. “Many of our employees, if they can help a customer, will go above and beyond if there's a way that they can make it happen. It’s not always the case that we can do something like this because of other considerations, but it looks to me like all these employees worked together to make it happen.’’

Drake followed up his experience with a complimentary letter to United on Feb. 24, thanking the airline and staff, including pilot Edward Goldstein and first officer Dirk Chilian, for their kindness in a difficult situation. The letter appeared in the company’s employee newsletter with his name removed

“My only motivation was to recognize the people at United who were so kind,’’ he said. “It was a greatly unusual and appreciated thing.’’