It all began with Matthew Hill’s first flight a few years ago. From the moment the Delta pilot let him see the flight deck firsthand and told him, “never let anyone tell you there’s anything you can’t do,” he was not only hooked on aviation but also hooked on Delta.
He and that pilot had something in common — they both grew up with a disability. Matthew has autism, and since that first flight, he has been inspired to never give up and dreams of one day becoming a Delta pilot himself.
“It was just amazing how good the employees were with him. It was his first time flying, and they were so calming and caring,” said Stephanie Hill, Matthew’s mother. “They were willing to go above and beyond to make sure he had a good time on his flight.”
Matthew has since become Delta’s No. 1 fan. Now, every year for his birthday, Matthew’s family saves up to take him on a trip where the real treat isn’t the destination, but the journey on Delta. COVID-19 disrupted this year’s plans, so Matthew and his family decided to drive up to Atlanta to see the Delta Flight Museum instead.
But when Matthew and his family arrived in Atlanta, they discovered that the museum was closed due to COVID-19. Undeterred, his family quickly changed course and decided to pay a visit to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Matthew took pictures of the airplanes, the check-in counters and the airport’s architecture, and then decided to make one last stop at Delta’s ticket counter in the South Terminal.
“Right before I left, I said, ‘I have to go to the Delta ticket counter,’ because you cannot go to Atlanta without visiting Delta,” Matthew said.
While he was admiring the Delta ticket counter, Delta Customer Service Agent Diane Ochoa noticed Matthew’s grandmother, Aby, standing by the counter and walked over to assist with any questions. Once Diane learned their story, she started making calls to make sure Matthew had an unforgettable birthday.
With help from a few colleagues, Diane was able to connect with the ATL Airport Experience team, who brought Matthew a backpack full of Delta swag. After meeting him, the team knew they had to do even more and quickly got to work to giving Matthew and his family a behind-the-scenes tour of the Atlanta airport.
“Only at Delta would the red carpet be rolled out for an 11-year-old. You just couldn’t help but want to make the day bigger than life for him,” Diane said. “His heart for us — I've never seen anything like it.”
David Bostater, Analyst — Channel Initiatives, took the reins and gave Matthew an unforgettable airport experience riding across the tarmac wearing a bright yellow vest in an official Delta vehicle. Another highlight of the experience for Matthew was when he got to see his favorite aircraft up-close.
“At Concourse B we parked right next to the 717,” said Matthew. “I walked the whole Boeing 717 Delta cabin, and I fell in love with it. It was the best birthday I’ve ever had in my whole life.”
In true Delta fashion, our people went above and beyond to make Matthew’s birthday special, and it didn’t stop there. Once Diane shared Matthew’s story more broadly with Delta people, employees from across the operation came together to share in Matthew’s love of Delta.
“I have joy to the moon and back, and it’s thanks to all of you. It’s a dream come true for what you all have done for me,” said Matthew. “Now I have so many Delta friends - I’m speechless. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
A decked-out beverage cart
When Matthew met Diane the day of his impromptu airport tour, he told her how he wanted to one day own his very own Delta beverage cart. Hearing this, Diane started the search.
Dovie Verjarano, Director—Catering Operations, found one for him. With the beverage cart secured, Erik Dondero, Project Manager — In Flight Service Programs, cleaned up the cart that has been with Delta since the merger, seen six continents, flown over a million miles and has been on all mainline fleet types. With the help of David Holtz, S.V.P. — Operations and Customer Center; Kathyann Player, General Manager — Cargo; Eon Rambharan, Station Manager — Miami; and Alexis Garcia, Operations Service Manager — Miami, the team procured and transported the cart. Diane and Alexis then hand-delivered the beverage cart to Matthew at his home in Miami. The cart came filled with Delta swag and arrived just in time for Matthew to use it for his drive-by birthday, fully stocked with goodie bags.
Facetime with a Delta Captain
After hearing about Matthew's story and how another pilot had inspired him in the past, Captain Erich Ries reached out to Matthew’s mom to set up a conversation with Matthew. Captain Ries has shared his experiences before about traveling with his son, who is on the autism spectrum. Matthew and Captain Ries spoke for over an hour on Facetime.
No such thing as too much Delta swag
James R. V. Rhodes – Manager, Employee Support, also heard about Matthew’s story while he was transferring from Pittsburgh to Boston. In the process of his transfer, he found a few things from his personal aviation collection that he thought Matthew would enjoy and invited Matthew on an airport tour of Boston Logan International Airport, should he ever find himself there.
We can do this together
When Diane shared Matthew’s story with Delta people, she also shared Matthew’s Delta fan-Instagram page. One of the first people to reach out to Matthew was Ahmed Khwaja, Ramp Agent — Chattanooga. Ahmed now stays in touch with Matthew and encourages Matthew to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot. In fact, Matthew shared that Ahmed told him, “I’m a little older than you, but I want to be a pilot. If we really try hard, we both can achieve our dreams.”
The day Matthew stopped by our ticket counter only to be surprised with an airport tour was just the beginning. That airport tour turned into a much bigger experience – one that came with a model ‘Thank You’ airplane for his collection from a flight attendant, a second airport tour of the Miami airport near his home, support from Delta people across the globe and friends throughout the Delta network.
Matthew may be Delta’s No. 1 fan, but it turns out we’re a pretty big fan of his as well.