When she arrived Sunday afternoon at San Jose's airport, Brandi Sperry faced a host of problems. Her4-month-old baby, Grace, was having trouble holding down food because of a stomach ailment. The 19-year-old says she lost her spot at a San Jose teen home after telling them she intended to return home to her mother in Chicago.
Worse yet, the $173 ticket Brandi's mother, Dawn, had booked for her and the baby on United Airlines didn't depart until six days later. Brandi had $60 in her pocket. If you've ever been a kid in a travel snafu, you may understand.
At this point, some readers will want the full background of her plight. The family says the father of her child was not able to help. I don't know the details of her experience at the teen home. But that's not the point of this story. The point is what happened next. It's a story of grace, uncapitalized.
Dawn Sperry tried to persuade United to change the flight for her daughter and the baby at the last minute. It was going to cost $1,400, more than Dawn had handy.
Desperate to find a way home, Brandi wandered over to the Southwest Airlines baggage claim counter, where she met one of the heroes of this story, a Southwest representative named Clare Miller. Brandi explained her plight. And Miller promised to help.
"She just took me under her wing, and took care of me like I was family," Brandi told me later. "It was amazing. She told me, 'I'm not going to leave you alone.'"
Miller persuaded a supervisor to get involved, and eventually found a nonstop Southwest flight the next morning that Dawn could book online for $400. The Southwest people arranged an overnight stay for Brandi at the Marriott with the help of a hotel official, Eric Reyes. It was gratis.
That wasn't all. Miller paid for Brandi's dinner and let her use her cellphone. On the next morning, the Southwest people carried Brandi's luggage as she boarded with a car seat and stroller and baby.
By 1 p.m. on Monday, Brandi was back home with her mother. Miller called to check that she returned home safely. (After some back and forth, Dawn says, United refunded its ticket. A United representative didn't get back to me by my deadline).
More than goodwill
Miller and Reyes and the others who helped the young mother went well beyond the official scope of their jobs. "Everybody was pulling strings to help a stranger from Chicago that they didn't know," said Dawn Sperry afterward.
As it happens, Dawn volunteers at the USO at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, where she helps servicemen and women with their travel arrangements. And she thinks that Southwest might have been paying her forward with a random act of kindness. "This was above and beyond," she says of Clare Miller's help. "I want to send her flowers."
For my money, though, I'm convinced this wasn't random. It was compassion, bred in the bone. Two thousand miles away, a family hasn't forgotten.