Joan Crandall has cultivated countless connections and an ever-deepening perspective on purpose over her 62-year career as a flight attendant. As Delta's most experienced flight attendant, it was a given that she would step up and offer her service in support of the U.S. government's recent activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF).
Crandall is a veteran of all three CRAF activations. First in support of Operation Desert Shield (1990-1991). Then again for Operation Iraqi Freedom (2002-2003). And most recently as part of Operation Allies Refuge. Before there was CRAF, Joan had a jump-seat view of missions that carried American soldiers into the Vietnam War.
Serving on previous CRAF missions brought a weight of emotions as she flew with soldiers bound for battle. But the opportunity to support bringing evacuees from Afghanistan to the United States brought new feelings, new challenges and new opportunities for connection.
"These are civilians. These are families," Crandall said of the people she served on her flight from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Washington Dulles International Airport. "Here they are being lifted out of their country, and they're going to the United States."
Fear. Relief. Nervousness. Exhaustion. Hope. Those emotions, and more, were ever-present during the eight-hour flight, coming in the fleeting moments during the flight, over beverage service, for example.
Delta’s support of the CRAF activation involved hundreds of employees working from the United States and Europe. Their combined efforts successfully completed a total of 40 international and domestic missions carrying 9,885 passengers. Delta’s customers also showed their support, donating 57 million miles to Miles4Migrants.
During Crandall’s flight, the people on board the Delta 767 were under the care of some of the airline's most experienced and skilled pilots and flight attendants. Among them, there was a fluent speaker of Pashto and Dari (the most common languages spoken in Afghanistan). Qualifying for those languages came in response to the CRAF mission. Delta’s Language of Destination team worked rapidly to develop tests, and as many as eight flight attendants across Delta are now qualified in those languages.
The entire crew went above and beyond to make the flight comfortable by bringing coloring books, stuffed animals and toys for the youngest guests.
"It is a wonderful thing for those of us in the airline and aviation to be a part of – rescuing the citizens and the children of a nation that's crumbling," Crandall said of the passion for Delta people to volunteer in support of the mission.
"But it's not an airline thing. We did it for our country," Crandall said of the sense of duty she and her colleagues felt.
While the time the passengers and crew were together was brief, Crandall knows from experience that the connection between passengers and crew at such a meaningful moment would last a lifetime. "It's thrilling to be able to take these families to a place where there will be an opportunity," Crandall said. "The babies will get to grow up, and that's the emotional connection."
Photo caption: Capt. Thomas Pelczynski and Joan Crandall with the entire flight crew.