For Flight Services International (FSI) Flight Attendant Tania Anderson, caring for passengers is second nature.
That instinct to comfort and protect was never stronger than on August 26, when she served on the crew for one of Atlas’s flights in support of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) Afghanistan evacuation effort.
Of the 150-plus passengers on the flight, 22 were children. One was traveling alone.
Fourteen-year-old Sayid** boarded Tania’s flight in Ramstein (RMS) after getting separated from his family at a bus station in Kabul amid a rushing crowd of people trying to escape. Somehow, he made it to the airport and onto the aircraft bound for RMS by himself.
Sayid carried a trash bag that held everything he owned, including a coloring book and crayons – unusually simple treasures by American-teenager standards.
“He had diligently colored in an American flag as we were landing,” Tania said. “And then he held it up, smiling for a picture. I felt very protective of him.”
When the 767 landed at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), cell phones throughout the plane alerted with the news of the terror attack at the Kabul Airport, which occurred during the flight.
“I can’t imagine how incredibly upsetting that must have been for our passengers, who were so concerned about loved ones left behind,” Tania said.
Sayid’s hopeful demeanor in the face of such chaos and trauma inspired Tania and her crew mates.
“We always try to anticipate passengers’ needs,” said Tania, who has been working for FSI servicing Atlas Air for more than five years. “But this was a different kind of flight. Sayid and the other passengers will remember every facet of that day. Whatever we do (during these evacuation flights), for better or for worse, it will be remembered 30 years from now.”
Tania and Atlas crew members on that flight took that notion to heart and worked hard to ensure that Sayid’s memories of the momentous flight would be as warm as possible.
FSI Flight Attendant Pia Marchant gave him a tote bag, into which he happily transferred his meager possessions. In return, he gave Pia a small stuffed white lion that he had been carrying.
Captain Gabriel Villamizar gave Sayid a tour of the cockpit and invited him to sit in the left seat. They spent some time chatting and shared a fist bump after the flight.
As she talked with Sayid, Tania learned that he would be turning 15 in September.
“My wish for his birthday is that he somehow will be reunited with his loved ones.”
**Name changed to preserve this child’s safety and anonymity.