“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, ‘As pretty as an airport.’”—Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
Goodbyes are hard. Goodbyes inside of airports are harder. For some reason, parking lot farewells don’t hold a candle to weepy departures at the terminal. Even if the air-bound party is all but sure to be seen again, there’s something…” feel-worthy” … about airports goodbyes. Perhaps it’s the distance. Perhaps it’s the surrounding parties who don’t have that surety.
Reddit asked those closest to the action—airport workers—about the most tearful goodbyes they’ve ever witnessed while on the job. The employees, and other airport folk, came forth to share their most tearful yarns about the departures which crash-landed into their hearts. From four-legged farewells to the long-distance couples who just didn’t make it, here are 42 of the saddest stories about airport goodbyes.
42. Dream Jet
I flew a private jet to San Francisco to pick up a five-year-old girl and her mother. The girl had a brain tumor and was in San Francisco for a last-ditch effort to be cured.
Unfortunately, the treatment had not been effective, and the plane ride had been donated to bring her back home to die. I don’t remember why the father stayed in California but watching him say goodbye to his daughter broke my heart. At the time, my wife was close to her delivery date of our first baby, and this really tore me up inside.
41. Can’t Contain Himself
Flight attendant here. Leaving Vegas, I had a passenger get on the airplane completely wasted and smelling like a dumpster.
After pushback he proceeded to vomit all over himself, forcing me to move passengers to other seats. I told him we would have to go back to the gate and he would have to take a later flight. He was totally functional, just smelled horrible, and had clearly been drinking.
He started bawling hysterically begging me to let him stay on. I asked him what was wrong. He was at a bachelor party in Vegas and his three-month-old daughter had just died. He left the partying to catch a flight home. When we landed I had someone meet the flight to assist him to his next gate.
I think that is possibly the saddest “goodbye” I have ever witnessed.
40. Sunsets in Portugal
Former airport employee here.
Last summer, I worked at the international airport of the Netherlands where I would drive people around to their respective flights who were in need of assistance. Anyways, in my last week, I had to pick-up an elderly (85-ish) man from the check-in desk. He was accompanied by a huge number of (presumably) family members and friends, and as I told him he had to say goodbye ‘cause we needed to move on to customs, the majority of the group started crying.
At first, I felt really uncomfortable because I had no idea what the hell was happening, but after about 15 minutes he told me he was going to Portugal to enjoy his “final moments in a beautiful place before ending it all.” I went silent instantly as I didn’t know how to respond to that, I’m still left with so many questions as to how and why.
So to sum it up, the elderly guy I had to assist was gonna enjoy his vacation in Portugal followed by “ending it all.”
39. Air Show
The saddest goodbye was actually saying goodbye for the final time to one of my friends. He had worked for multiple airlines in the airport and was well liked by everyone.
He died suddenly in his sleep and it devastated everyone in our small airport family. His family wanted to bury him in his hometown, so we had to ship his body away.
Basically, the whole airport had stopped operating while his friends loaded his body onto the aircraft taking him home. The whole ceremony performed was very emotional but I’m glad he got to take to the air even after death.
38. Forced Out of the Nest
Worked as an airport employee for a while. One of my duties was to accompany minors who were flying alone.
Well, there was this tiny boy, 10 years old at the time, that I had to meet after his check-in. His mom checked him in, she saw me waiting, then she said, “Can you give me a few minutes to say goodbye?”. I said sure, stepped aside, then she knelt so she can look the boy in the eye. She brought him to me after a few minutes, so I walked with the boy towards the gate.
He looked sad, so I made small talk and told him where he was going and if he were meeting someone where he’s going.
Apparently, his parents are separated, and his mom is sending him to his dad because she can’t afford to feed him adequately and send him to school. She also can’t afford a round-trip plane ticket to go with him which is why the kid was flying alone. He said he’s never going to see his mom again because he’s sure his dad won’t allow him to.
As a child of a bad divorce myself, his story broke my heart.
37. Hollow Homecoming
Used to be a wheelchair attendant for an international airport.
I was helping the gentleman get in the wheelchair and his wife was explaining to him it would only be for a few weeks and that everything would be ok. The man starts crying, saying he doesn’t want to be too far away and he’s concerned about his visit back home. She consoled him and asked me to make sure he got to the gate ok. I gave my word I would. So as we’re going through security, I begin talking to him and I found out why he was so upset.
This guy was a Scottish World War II veteran and he was going back home for the first time since leaving after returning from the war. He began to tell me his life story, how he lost his older and younger brother during Dunkirk because the British army required the Scottish military members to hold back the Nazis while the British troops escaped. He told me how he got injured in combat and was treated by an American medic that later became his wife. He told me of his jobs after the war, about his children, about his grandchildren and how he has a great-grandchild on the way.
He then told me about why he’s going back home after all this time in America. It was because he had cancer that likely will be untreatable and he wanted to stay in his home village and try to get medical treatment there until the end. However, his wife had to work another week or so and wouldn’t be in the country, and he was upset because he didn’t want to pass away with her not by his side. I had to hide my tears after that one. After hearing all that, I perfectly understood why he was getting emotional.
His flight wasn’t taking off for a few hours after I dropped him off, so that day I checked up on him every hour, had lunch with him and eventually other people started hanging out with him when they noticed he was alone and he began smiling and laughing with them. But just thinking about him gets me teary eyed.
36. Doggone It
Not an employee, but my mom’s friend. She’d just gotten off her plane when another passenger was taken aside by an airport employee who had to tell him that his dog, unfortunately, didn’t make it in the cargo hold or wherever they place larger dogs.
The cause of death was stress.
She overheard it all and saw this adult man falling apart, right in the middle of a busy airport.
35. A Lack of Elegance Doesn’t Mean Insincerity
A friend of mine was going to go stay in China as an au pair. On the last day, we all go to see her off at the airport. We all exchange hugs, talk about meeting again, give phone numbers, etc.
Then one guy who gives her another hug just straight out says, “You were the best lay ever.” She is blushing at this point and we were all stunned.
We asked them and, no, they weren’t dating because she would have to go home soon. She left blushing, and we had a good laugh about it.
The dude who said it was just standing there as we walked away. A very kind of weird look on his face. When we asked what’s up he just said, “I hope she comes back.”
She came back.
34. The End of Education
I’m not an employee, but I was dropping off my long-distance BF at the time and thought I was sad until I saw this other goodbye.
It looked like an exchange student was saying goodbye to his exchange family. I eavesdropped a bit and heard him tell the mom that he is really grateful that they housed him and gave him this great opportunity to study in the states.
The mom grabbed him and just hugged the heck out of him while crying.
I just felt so sad for them. It looked like he had really made a place for himself in their family and it was as if the mom was saying goodbye to, not just one of her own kids, but to one that she would most likely never see again. I hope they at least stayed in contact with one another!
33. See You Again
I work at an international Airport in Germany. I was checking in an older lady who told me she has cancer and she is going to Morocco to get cannabis oil because that is supposed to help support the chemotherapy she is doing.
Two weeks later, a young girl was at the airport demanding a ticket to Morocco crying her eyes out. It was like a punch in the gut.
32. To Serve and Protect
Not an airport employee. But, having to hug my baby brother goodbye when he was headed back to a war zone after being on leave was awful.
We would all be strong and positive for him, then sob as soon as he was out of sight. Thank goodness he’s been out of the Army and home safe for seven years now.
31. Sick of It
When I was in college, I used to work at an airport in a smaller city as a passenger assistant during the summer. I would help people with their baggage or help push people in wheelchairs to their gates, etc.
On more than one occasion, I pushed late-stage cancer patients to their gates who were flying to another city for chemo treatments. A lot of times, family members would walk with us all the way up to the gate to say goodbye, just in case it was the last time. Broke my heart each and every time.
30. Planting Roots Elsewhere
I didn’t see it happen in person but realized it when I saw it on TV.
When people were emigrating from my country during the recession, many were saying goodbye to their grandparents. For the last time. Very sad.
29. Trapped in Custody
My ex took my 11-month-old son almost 3,000 miles away to California.
I saw him two weeks a year for two years. I missed his first birthday, I missed Christmas… It sucked, and the airport employees were visibly shaken because I unashamedly begged her not to leave with my kid until she got to the TSA.
28. No Safe Haven
Not at the airport, but after visiting my then BF who lived cross country, I cried the entire six-hour flight back.
My head ached, my face hurt, but I could not stop. Probably didn’t help that I was also going back to the house where my abuser lived, but no one else knew that.
27. Runway to Love
Ok I know this doesn’t technically answer the question… But here’s a little happy amidst the sad.
I’m in a long-distance relationship—opposite sides of the US—and recently I brought my partner to the airport and was waiting to make sure he got through security. He has a history of doing things like accidentally throwing away his boarding pass and having to go through the whole line over again.
I guess I looked sad and/or lost, and I sometimes get mistaken for a teenager when I’m dressed down, so employees kept asking me if I needed help. I politely brushed them off until finally explaining to one of the check-in agents who seemed extra worried that I was just making sure my guy got through security ok.
She leads me back to her counter, where there was a window to the security line, so I could flag him down once he got through and have one last goodbye through the glass. She even took pictures while we had a Kirk/Spock moment.
So I just wanted to say thank you to the nice airline lady for being really sweet, despite probably dealing with a lot of stuff all day.
26. You Never Know
Years ago, I was a flight attendant and due to weather, we were slammed with missed connections, late arrivals, and everything else thrown in the mix.
We were loaded up and waiting to depart from the jetway and after about 15 minutes, a woman was escorted to the plane. I led her to the last seat available on the last row and we finished our pre-departure duties and took off. Everything had gone wrong that day and IIRC, we weren’t catered properly so this added to my annoyance.
I took a moment to speak to the lady who boarded last and she said she was going to see her husband and then got quiet. I asked her if everything was ok. She said he had had a heart attack and she was rushing to be with him at the hospital. I asked her if he was going to be okay and she said, “I don’t know.”
I was shocked and don’t know why, but I asked her if he was going to make it and she looked at me and said, “I don’t know”. I realized she didn’t even know if he was still alive and I spent much of the rest of the flight kneeling beside her in the aisle, holding her hand.
I have thought back to that moment thousands of times over the years since then in moments when I get annoyed at people or if something inconveniences me or someone else. You never know what someone is going through.
25. Unfortunate Arrival
Whenever a fallen soldier comes home. And especially if that soldier had his or her trusty companion with them too. Seeing those caskets come out from the plane just punches you right in the gut.
24. Good Boy
A marine saying goodbye to his dog.
23. In the Doghouse
I’m not an airport worker, but an agreement between me and my ex had me sending our dog to them, all the way across the country. The dog that had been my only companion when said ex moved away, who we’d raised together from a puppy, and I was sending away my only companion, a long, long ways away, by herself, on a flight to California.
As if the 45-minute drive to the airport wasn’t hard enough with her in the back seat, in her carrier, whimpering and fussing because we were in the car at all, by the time they brought the cart out to put her extra-large carrier onto it, I was losing it all. I choke up thinking about it, and it’s been a little over a year.
I hadn’t cried that hard in a long time, seeing them taking her away, and it lasted a long, long time. I still choke up badly thinking about it. Let alone the drive “home”—living on a friend’s couch, preparing to move myself—to come back to no dog to hold, to greet, to hang out with or feed or take outside or anything. Just me in the quiet.
I hope it’s okay I posted this. Maybe just wanted it off my chest. I miss that dog quite a bit, and I know I can’t get another one because of various reasons, so I think about her a ton. And every time I think of that trip to the airport I break down a little again.
22. Making Up For It
I don’t know what people thought when they saw me crying my eyes out when I was saying goodbye to my beautiful sweet girlfriend at the airport and entering the gate for the plane.
I couldn’t stop crying and when I looked back for the last time and saw her sobbing I was close to send everything to hell and go back to her arms (but of course that would’ve meant violating my visa by overstaying in the US and basically ruining my life). Long-distance relationships are tough, man, but she’s worth it.
21. Long Way to Loving
Not an airport employee here. I was part of the sad goodbye.
I met my girlfriend online (in Guild Wars, long ago) and after a few months of online dating, we finally met for a 5-day city trip in Lisbon. It was awesome up until the moment we had to go home again.
I bawled my eyes out for hours, and when I had to board my plane one of the flight attendants took me aside to ask me what was going on. Turns out the flight attendant had been in a long-distance relationship as well, so they talked to me and were able to calm me down somewhat.
That was over three years ago. The distance is gone, and we are now living together in my home country. Those sad goodbyes were absolutely worth it, even if they were gut-wrenching.
20. Wait for It
We said goodbye to one of my best friends, knowing we were probably not gonna see her again for a very long time.
Her entire family, plus a few friends, kept a smile on our faces as we bid her goodbye and wished her luck. The second we were out of her sight, we all started crying and hugging each other.
19. Cowboys Do Cry
I’m in an international relationship.
I don’t know how the employees felt about it, but there are a few employees who witnessed a 6’3″ tall guy in all black, with spiked black cowboy boots, mirrored aviators and a tattered cowboy hat crying his eyes out at Gate 3 while saying goodbye to his Irish fiancée.
I even lost it when paying the person outside the parking garage once. It was this sweet, old lady. I was choking back tears, and she made the mistake of saying, “Hey, are you okay?”
Amid massive sobs: “I’m sorry, I’m engaged to a woman who lives in another country and this is just really hard.”
18. Gone Too Soon
So, I did Honor Guard a few years back, Air Force, and an Airman was killed in a traffic accident overseas.
His fiancée was back in the states. I had to carry the casket from the plane to the hearse while the family waited on the flight line. That was pretty rough since the guy was like 20 years old.
17. Can’t Put a Price on Tragedy
Not a goodbye. Working one night, I passed by an elderly lady staring at the cart disperser. I asked her if she needed change for a cart, she turns around and started crying telling me she had to fly down so fast she forgot to bring money with her.
She flew home to pick up her husband’s body who suddenly passed away. Made me cry, gave her everything in my pocket and made sure baggage agents took care of her.
16. Cry Your Lunch Out
Not an employee but used to be in a long-distance relationship. Every goodbye was a heartbreak, but the last one… I’ll never forget that. It was also the most embarrassing thing that has happened to me yet.
We’ve been having some problems and I spent the summer with him. We both loved each other, and although we promised each other it wasn’t the last time we’d see each other, we both kind of knew it would be, and that turned out to be true.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried this much. I actually felt so sick, that I vomited into a trash can in front of everyone. Definitely not my proudest moment.
Going through security and leaving was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. We broke up a month later because we just couldn’t take the distance and the emotional rollercoaster every time anymore, and there were other problems as well.
15. Dad Can’t Follow
One time I was flying out of El Salvador to the States and I saw this big burly man and his daughter saying goodbye to each other.
He was bawling his eyes out telling her to be a good girl. I think she was immigrating to the United States and he couldn’t go. It broke my heart.
14. Early Departures
Not sure if it counts, but I work in logistics and had to oversee the transportation of a coffin from Indonesia back to Australia of a kid (mid-to-late 20s) who died in a moped crash.
His European girlfriend was there, and she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to get an Australian visa to go to the funeral or not. Was really heartbreaking to have to say goodbye at the cargo terminal of an airport.
Got him home safe and sound though, overseeing the unloading was just as hard because the family was there to pick him up.
Not sure if the girlfriend made it to the funeral or not. Most emotional part of the job so far.
13. Parting Alone, Party Together
I used to work for a travel reward company (using credit card points to book travel) and one call was an older gentleman in his 70s who was just LOADED in points. He was friendly and normal from the conversations we were having while I completed his bookings and I enjoyed the chat.
He told me he was going to use all his points that day which prompted me to ask the question, “Oh are we booking anyone else on this flight?” to which he responded, “Oh yes darling! We are booking the whole family.” Cool, how generous. He then tells me that he is getting married to his girlfriend and flying the entire family out for the celebration. My heart melts.
Then he tells me that it is a celebration of love and life and that he was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and is too old and too impatient to spend his days in the hospital, so he is locking down his lady and getting all his kids and grandkids together for one last hoorah of his life. I was silent in heartbreak. He then said to me that “Life is too short for being sad for someone who has lived a long and fulfilling life” like he did.
I hope he had a hell of a send-off!
12. One Way Trip
Not an airport employee but I recently had to say goodbye to my dad. My parents are divorced, and I only see my dad for two weeks a year.
We meet in Italy, because I am not allowed to visit his new home on Bali or visit him generally until I’m 18 years old. So yesterday, I had to say goodbye knowing that I probably won’t see my dad for two and a half years, because my mother canceled my trip to Italy for next year. The thing is that I am legally allowed to visit my dad. I just have to visit my lawyer and I would be able to visit him.
But that would mean that my mother would always hate me and so on—she told me that that would be the consequence. So saying goodbye to my dad was really hard.
11. Late Remembrance
Not an airline attendant or anything here. I live very close to our local airport. I live about two miles from it on the same road.
I have finally gotten used to hearing the big ones come in. I had left the house one day to go to the grocery store and also pick up some to-go Mexican food for dinner. All of this is farther down the road from the airport but still on the same road.
While on the way, I noticed a hearse followed by a bunch of cars, so I pulled over to the side of the road and cut my car off because I live in the South and it is just a sign of respect to grieving family. Once it had passed, I went back on my way. I had finished shopping and went across the street to the Mexican restaurant. As I was pulling in, I notice the same funeral procession coming by. So I get out of the car and notice dozens of cars lining the road with American flags. All of us are hanging our heads until it passes.
This experience seemed a little odd to me for some reason…especially the people lining the roads. I assumed maybe a serviceman had passed in the Middle East and was being transported home. I watched the news that night and was not too far off. Apparently, a serviceman’s bones from WWII had been identified and he was from a small town nearby. They were finally bringing him home to rest.
Broke my heart thinking that 60 years ago, his parents probably never knew what happened to him. I was glad I got to pay my respects to him for giving his life for all of us.
10. Childhood Over
When I was younger, about 16, I had a girlfriend who I had been on and off with since middle school. Her dad had his job get moved to Florida and I went with her to the airport to say goodbye as she flew halfway down the country and I knew I’d never see her again.
9. He’d Figure It Out Eventually
We had a family fly in to drop their daughter off for, I guess, some kind of boarding school.
In our business its not entirely our place to ask directly or judge. Generally, we ask, “What brings you to this city?” But that was an awkward ride from the plane to the terminal when the little kid realized Mom and Dad would not be staying with them.
10. Can’t Miss It, But Had To
Not the employee, but the granddaughter of the employee. My grandfather worked at Heathrow and was called into work the day that his mother emigrated to Australia—she was then 73, I think.
We’d planned a big send-off—all the family were at the gate—and he had to rush over at the last minute, say goodbye, and rush off again. Harsh. I was too little to realize quite how awful that was for him, but I remember him being very sad for months.
9. Cry-Bye Pooper
My mom and I were having a cry-bye as I was moving away when I was young. This was when people could walk to the gates still. But as I’m leaving, we hug one last time and of course, we both start crying. Yes, I’m a mama’s boy. As we are finally saying goodbye a lady comes up to us and starts yelling at us.
We just kept doing what we were doing. But later I think about it and she was mad that we were having a cry-bye and was saying we should not be doing that and to get it over with.
She was so mad that me and my mom were acting like that in public. I never understood what happened.
But the lady is also lucky my mom was focusing on me or the lady might have got more than she could handle. Good times.
8. Let’s Not Remember This
Most heartbreaking ever? A little girl of three years old that had to say goodbye to her mom who just overdosed. On cocaine that she’d swallowed to smuggle.
I couldn’t give a damn about the mother, but the face of the totally innocent kid—they had to take her out of her mom’s arms in the plane.
7. Last Roll
This really gruff looking man comes to the counter with a dog in a carrier. He is talking really quietly and fighting back tears.
So we are trying to help him with whatever he needs and be as comforting as possible. So he says yeah, I just got a divorce and my wife who had a better lawyer got the dog in the divorce. She hates the dog and is only taking the dog to hurt me and she is going to put it down as soon as she gets it.
The dog is just sitting in the crate happy as can be, he asks if he can have some time with the dog before the flight. So we say sure and you can take him out in the grass over there and we will come and get you at the last possible moment.
So he takes this really ugly but happy dog over into the grass and is rolling around with the dog. Big 6-foot tall dude, rough as you can imagine, rolling around like a three-year-old with an ugly dog jumping all over him. Damn, this happened like 30 years ago and I’m still cutting onions in here.
Anyway, we offered to “lose” the dog for him, you know stuff gets lost all the time. He says thanks for the offer, but his ex would hunt him to end of the earth to punish him.
6. The Dangers of Playlist Shuffling
Not an airport employee. But about 20 years ago, my friend’s girlfriend was being deported for overstaying her visa.
We waited in the bar after she went through customs and settled in with a few beers. At some point, I put about ten songs on the jukebox. A long while later, just as her plane starts taxiing out, “Everybody Hurts” by REM came on.
My friend pressed his head against the glass and started crying like I’d never seen a man cry before. Loud wails. I felt terrible for my song choice.
5. Final Goodbye
I worked at a very small regional airport, so I dealt with passengers from check-in to boarding. Often the passengers and their families would stay together all the way up until boarding.
An elderly gentleman was dropping off his son who had flown in from overseas where he lived for a visit. It was just us three in the terminal at the time, and after check-in, the dad looked at his son and said, “I have to go before I lose it,” and he hugged his son, shook his hand and left.
His son stood looking out the window to the tarmac and I could see he was getting a little upset. It was just us, so I walked over and asked if he was okay, he starts crying and says, “This is probably the last time I am going to see my dad.” He then tells me his dad is terminally ill with cancer, and he has to return to his job overseas.
All I could do was hug the guy and cry with him, it was very upsetting to me even as a stranger.
4. Home Away From Home
Not an employee but I saw a family of three (mom, dad, teenage son) saying goodbye to another younger guy they had hosted at their house for an exchange program or something.
The mom was crying and saying that he was part of the family and to visit whenever he wanted. The guy leaving looked pretty torn up, but the dad and the teenage son looked pretty stoic.
At the exchange, as the student was leaving he said goodbye to each of them by hugging them and calling them mom, dad, and brother. The dad and teenage son literally burst into tears and starting sobbing really loudly. It was really sweet but really sad.
3. A Bundle of Tragedy
I worked at Barcelona airport for a few years, and the saddest moment was also a goodbye moment. A couple with a two-year-old child had come to Barcelona to visit family of hers—she was Spanish, he was British.
It broke my heart when we at the sales desk realized a “Jim Wilson” who requested Special Assistance was on the flight. “Jim Wilson” is airline carrier code for a corpse being transported back home. So yes, the dead body was the child who had apparently collapsed for reasons I don’t know, and now was being sent back to England.
There was literally 30 people, all family of hers in the airport, saying goodbye to the little coffin. I never saw a more lost person than the mother, not to mention the grandmother. It was shocking, many of our coworkers had to take a break for several minutes as they could not stop crying.
Now I’m a father of a 9-month-old baby girl…and I’m just crying remembering this.
I hope that the family found a way to deal with the pain.
2. Airline Abandonment
Not an airport employee and not a goodbye.
Once I flew to Shanghai, and an old man in a wheelchair was wheeled off my flight. There was a huge kerfuffle at the exit as no one had come to pick him up.
Normally for wheelchair-bound elderly people, airline employees hand over to a relative. This man had dementia and when they called his family in Australia, who had put him on the plane, they said they couldn’t cope with him anymore. He had a slip of paper with the phone number of his other child in China who said they never agreed to look after him and didn’t want anything to do with him.
So the airline called the police and in the end, they said the old man would be taken to a homeless shelter to wait for a government-sponsored nursing home. I don’t know what happened to him, but it was incredibly sad.
1. Every Hello is a Goodbye
Sad goodbye I suppose…
A man shows up at the airport with two dozen beautiful roses, says his wife has been on a business trip for two weeks, and he is there to surprise her and bring her home, and needs help finding her.
Find her. She gets off the flight. Drunk as a skunk. Needs a wheelchair. We get her up front to where her husband is waiting on the checkpoint exit.
He surprises her, she puts her hand in her face, looks up and says, “I’m leaving you, I found (some guy name not audible) on my trip and I love him.”
She threw the roses on the ground. He picked them up, clearly shaken, said he can’t do this, said goodbye, and off he went.
No idea what happened after that. But this guy was on Cloud 9 surprising his wife, and she completely destroyed him in seconds.