IFS Program Manager Bonita Ebert has been working to support Delta’s flights related to the U.S. government’s activation of a Civil Reserve Air Fleet. Read her first-person account of the connections she made with some of Delta’s youngest passengers on a long journey.

Editor’s note: In-Flight Service Program Manager Bonita Ebert has been working to support Delta’s flights related to the U.S. government’s activation of a Civil Reserve Air Fleet. Below is Bonita’s first-person account of the connections she made with some of Delta’s youngest passengers on a long journey.

By Bonita Ebert, Delta Air Lines

I volunteered for this trip, as my background is in counterterrorism, where I worked with refugees from Afghanistan and the Middle East before my time at Delta. From those trips, I remember how the children loved to draw.

During my quick layover in Mainz, Germany, I went from store to store trying to find coloring items that would be enough for every child on the plane. I didn’t want anyone to feel left out and had heard of crews running out of items because of how many children have been on these flights. I finally settled on buying markers and notebooks knowing I could at least hand out pieces of paper and one marker per kid for them to draw to their heart's content.

In the middle of the flight, I finally had an opportunity to hand them out. The crew was having a hard time getting the kids to stay seated, and we were experiencing sporadic turbulence. I knew that the best way to get kids to stay seated was to give them an opportunity to be creative! So I walked through the cabin giving every kid, even the babies as parents asked for them, one marker and one piece of paper. Each one had the biggest smile on their face.

Before long, parents joined their children in drawing pictures of a Delta plane with their family inside, waiving to the Afghan mountains and family left behind. Seeing those pictures, all you could do is hold back tears. You could see how grateful they were for Delta’s part in getting them to safety. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think of those faces and the part we played in this.

Many of the families kept the pictures that they drew; you could tell it was going to be something their family treasured. But one little girl right in front of the exit row sitting next to her grandpa kept handing me these pictures. The first one was of an airplane that had a starting point (Afghanistan) and was heading to IAD as we had told them that is where we were flying to. I know that in the heart it says Afghanistan, and the rest was what she had copied from a note our speaker wrote on a card to each of them.

A drawing given to a Delta employee by an Afghan evacuee.

The second piece of paper had two pictures on it with a plane in the background on one side and the plane with a starting point and destination on the other side. Sharing with us her journey from Afghanistan to her new home in the United States.

A drawing given to a Delta employee by an Afghan evacuee.

Toward the end of the flight I had a whole notebook of paper and some markers left over. To thank the little girl for her kindness, I gave them to her. The joy was overwhelming, and she hugged that notebook and carefully placed them into her backpack. Her grandpa put his hand over his heart as a sign to say thank you, and they both returned to drawing other pieces of art.

It was an honor to serve those who had risked it all not just to come to the U.S., but who had supported the U.S. mission in Afghanistan for the past 20 years. They were the most humble customers and most precious cargo that we could ever carry on a flight. Being a part of that whole experience made me Delta Proud.

Passengers board a Delta plane at Ramstein Air Base.
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Delta Air Lines Flight Attendant serves passengers during CRAF mission.
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A member of Delta’s Corporate Communications team flew alongside Delta crews making the journey from Ramstein Air Base to the U.S. to chronicle the journey of evacuees from Afghanistan.
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