Southwest Airlines Employee Tracks Down Family to Return Touching Handwritten Letters That Were Left on Plane

A collection of letters from the 1940s to 1970s were left on a plane. An airline employee tracked down the family to return them.

Last September, Rachel DeGolia had one of her worst fears realized when a stack of irreplaceable family letters were left on a plane. She told CNN that the situation was “tragic,” but this tragedy turned into relief when an airline representative helped DeGolia find the letters.

DeGolia’s mother died of cancer in 1996. Her family were “prolific letter writers,” and, last summer, her cousin found a collection of letters written by Lois to her brother, Phil, over a 30-year span from the 1940s to 1970s.

The letters recounted Lois’ life, from her early days as a frustrated teenager in a small town in Iowa, to going to college in Chicago and eventually meeting the man that became her husband. 

“There were all these questions we’d have wanted to ask her, but she died within four months of her diagnosis,” said DeGolia. “This felt like a gift — a window into her young adulthood. And to lose it…” she pauses. “I felt so stupid to have not at least copied them.”

DeGolia’s cousin sent the letters to her throughout the summer, and she felt that her daughter’s wedding party in Brooklyn last September would be a great occasion to share them with the rest of her family.

Degolia gave the copies of the letters to her brother so he could take them home to Chicago to read. He made sure to keep them in the plane cabin with him, but then forgot them on the plane as he landed in Chicago.

“He was going to scan them when he got home, so he took them on the plane, put them on the floor and they were somehow kicked under his seat,” says DeGolia. “He didn’t notice they were gone for a few hours. He didn’t even get to read them.”

A Southwest Airlines crew member found the letters during a post-flight check and immediately realized they were important to someone. The letters were handed over to a gate agent who placed them in a high-value safe. 

DeGolia’s name was the only recognizable one from the letters, but, because she had not been the one to fly with Southwest, her name was not in their passenger database. Southwest employee Sarah Haffner kept searching. Thanks to a Google search, she found DeGolia’s phone number.

“At 9 pm one night, I got this call,” DeGolia recalled. “She said she was Sarah from Southwest, and I stopped her—I said, ‘Did you find the letters?’ I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing.”

The letters are back with their rightful owner and have “now been scanned,” she added.

Image source: CNN