Southwest Airways’ lacking baggage employees reunited this lady together with her treasured household letters


(CNN) — It is the stuff of journey nightmares. Taking one thing treasured in your journey, conserving it shut at hand so you do not danger shedding it in checked baggage — after which realizing you do not have it whenever you get dwelling.

For Rachel DeGolia, the nightmare of shedding one thing on a flight got here true. In September, her irreplaceable assortment of household letters from the Nineteen Forties to Seventies was left on a airplane because it pulled into Chicago Halfway Airport.

It was, says DeGolia, “tragic.” However that tragedy turned to reduction — even triumph — when, after a three-week search, one dogged airline consultant reunited DeGolia together with her letters.

A present from her late mom

Rachel DeGolia lost her mother, Lois, in 1996.

Rachel DeGolia misplaced her mom, Lois, in 1996.

Rachel DeGolia

It was the pandemic discovery that had made Rachel DeGolia’s summer time.

Her mom, Lois, had died in 1996 of most cancers, leaving the household bereft.

However, she says, her household have been “prolific letter writers” — and in summer time 2021, her cousin discovered a set of letters despatched by a younger Lois to her brother, Phil, who’d stored them everywhere in the years.

The letters, relationship again to 1947, recounted her life — first as a pissed off teenager in small-town Lansing, Iowa, then going to school in Chicago, and assembly the person who would turn into her husband.

“There have been all these questions we would have needed to ask her, however she died inside 4 months of her analysis,” says DeGolia. “This felt like a present — a window into her younger maturity. And to lose it…” she pauses. “I felt so silly to haven’t a minimum of copied them.”

Her cousin had despatched them to her in batches as he went by them in the summertime, and DeGolia took them together with her to her daughter’s wedding ceremony occasion over Labor Day weekend. The celebration had been delayed a yr — the couple had canceled their 2020 wedding ceremony, bought married over Zoom in June, and deliberate a celebration in Brooklyn for September 2021. DeGolia thought it will be the proper event to share the letters together with her brother.

In her pleasure, she did not make copies of them earlier than the journey. And in his pleasure, her brother took the valuable cargo dwelling, ensuring to maintain it with him within the cabin — however then left it within the cabin when he bought off his flight dwelling to Chicago.

“He was going to scan them when he bought dwelling, so he took them on the airplane, put them on the ground they usually have been by some means kicked underneath his seat,” says DeGolia.

So by the point they arrived at Chicago Halfway, they have been out of sight, out of thoughts.

“He did not discover they have been gone for a couple of hours,” says DeGolia. “He did not even get to learn them.”

Letters between siblings

Lois and Philip Schafer had been close siblings.

Lois and Philip Schafer had been shut siblings.

Rachel DeGolia

What her brother had left on the airplane was the file stuffed with the letters a younger Lois Anne Schafer had written to her brother, from 1947 to the Nineteen Sixties.

Her brother, Phil, had gone to school on the younger age of 16, and the younger Lois felt stifled in Lansing — a small city on the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa, which immediately has a inhabitants of simply 968 individuals.

DeGolia is eager to emphasise that Lois cherished the city until the tip of her life, as have her children — “We stored the home within the household the place she and our uncle grew up and spend many pleasant holidays there” — however as a youngster, her mom felt in a different way.

“She was writing about how bored she was, and the way unchallenged she was in highschool,” says DeGolia.

“She was pissed off with the social life in Lansing, writing to my uncle how a lot she missed him. She was chomping on the bit to get out of city.”

In actual fact, she managed it. Her brother had discovered it onerous to regulate going from a tiny city to school — Harvard — at such a younger age, so Lois spent her final yr of highschool residing together with her aunt in Milwaukee, to ease the transition into school life.

The siblings exchanged letters their whole lives.

The siblings exchanged letters their entire lives.

Rachel DeGolia

She continued writing to her brother as she moved to Chicago, the place her world modified as she began her research in social sciences, ending up specializing in city planning.

“It opened up every kind of horizons for her,” says DeGolia.

“She did graduate college there, she met my father, they usually bought married there and stayed in Chicago.

“So she wrote [to Phil] about what she was considering and studying, music, live shows philosophical issues she knew my uncle would interact together with her on.

“Though I collect he did not write again as typically as she’d like — she was at all times complaining about that.”

Uncle Phil might not have been good at replying, however he was wonderful at preserving their household historical past. A “pack rat” as DeGolia calls him, he stored each letter his sister despatched him.

And as she continued to write down by marriage, children, and caring for her getting old mother and father, who she lived close to to, he stored all her letters — offering a report of her life.

In 2021, DeGolia obtained that entire historical past of her mom’s life, and her late mother and father’ first assembly, when her cousin discovered the letters. A historical past that might have been erased had the letters been thrown away on the airplane.

The letters get misplaced


Sarah Haffner is the Southwest worker who reunited Rachel DeGolia together with her mom’s letters.

Courtesy Sarah Haffner

It was a Southwest flight from New York to Chicago Halfway that had taken DeGolia’s brother dwelling in September after the marriage occasion.

After the passengers deplaned, crew discovered the folder throughout their post-flight checks, realized the letters have been treasured, and handed the folder over to a gate agent, the place it was positioned in a protected.

Southwest process is that on the finish of their shift, gate supervisors deliver something precious straight to the airline’s Baggage Sorting Workplace on the airport in query — which is how the letters ended up in Sarah Haffner’s arms.

In actuality, they should not have. Usually, the airline provides its airport brokers 24 hours to find the house owners of high-value objects — earlier than sending them to the principle Southwest misplaced baggage warehouse in Dallas.

In actual fact, Haffner — a Baggage Service Workplace supervisor for Southwest at Halfway — had been off work for every week when the folder was delivered to her workplace, however her coworkers hadn’t needed to ship the letters to the depot, as a result of they appeared so very treasured.

“I got here again they usually have been on the highest shelf of our excessive worth protected,” says Haffner.

“I checked out them, however it had one in all my supervisor’s names on it, with a observe saying to carry on to it. So I left it there, considering they knew who the house owners have been.”

In actual fact, the opposite employees had given up on discovering the proprietor, having drawn successive blanks, and never having had anybody contact them direct in regards to the letters.

DeGolia mentioned her brother had been leaving messages with Southwest centrally — however by some means the messages had by no means reached the best individuals.

Per week after her return — two weeks after the letters have been misplaced — Haffner’s supervisor advised her that they have been at a loss.

“They mentioned, ‘We have had no luck, so if you wish to take a peek, do — if not we’ll need to ship it to Misplaced and Discovered,” she says.

“That is an enormous warehouse of misplaced objects in Dallas. It’s totally properly organized, in addition to we are able to do it, however it’s large. I did not wish to ship it there as soon as I might seemed contained in the envelope.”

A love story ‘like a film’

One letter talked about Lois' desire to marry Frank Rosen, despite both their families' misgivings.

One letter talked about Lois’ want to marry Frank Rosen, regardless of each their households’ misgivings.

Rachel DeGolia

As a result of as quickly as she seemed, Haffner had realized this was an merchandise that wanted to seek out its proprietor.

“There have been about 40 handwritten letters, actually aged and brown, relationship from the Nineteen Forties, between relations,” she says.

“I pulled out one and browse the entire letter. I spotted these have been individuals who have been in all probability now not right here. It was stuff about relationships and household drama — it was very private.”

In actual fact, it was so private that she stopped studying. “I solely learn the highest letter as a result of I felt like I used to be impeding their privateness,” she says. “It was tremendous non-public. I used to be attempting to not learn it.”

So non-public, in reality, that Haffner even refused to debate the contents with CNN till Rachel DeGolia had agreed to share its contents.

The letter that Haffner had learn, sitting on high of the pile, was one during which Lois was telling Phil a few man she’d met at graduate college, and fallen in love with.

They’d bought engaged — solely to seek out that neither household needed the wedding to occur.

“Each units of oldsters disapproved as a result of he was Jewish and her household was Protestant, they usually did not suppose it will work,” says DeGolia. “It was an ideal letter.”

“It was like a film,” provides Haffner. “She was scripting this letter, sibling to sibling, combating for his or her love as a result of her mother and father did not suppose he was the best man. She was pleading, writing that he was an ideal individual. It was so unhappy. I learn it, and I mentioned, I simply can’t ship it to Dallas.”

The unhappy letter had had a contented ending. Lois Anne Schafer and Frank Rosen married in 1949. That they had three children — Rachel being the oldest — and have been collectively till Lois died in 1996, after 47 years of marriage.

“It did work,” says DeGolia of her mother and father. “That they had an ideal marriage.”

Haffner was fascinated by the letter. “I used to be so curious as to what the tip of the story was — did they get married, stay fortunately ever after?,” she says. “It was far too sentimental to ship to the warehouse.”

Discovering Rachel

Lois Schafer and her mother Ruth on the Mississippi at Lansing.

Lois Schafer and her mom Ruth on the Mississippi at Lansing.

Rachel DeGolia

Usually, the process for reuniting objects with their house owners is pretty easy. Non-valuables are shipped straight to the Dallas warehouse and entered into the stock there, whereas high-value objects get a 24-hour grace interval on the airport at which they’re discovered. Brokers like Haffner search for any identification on the merchandise, after which match the identify to a passenger reserving.

If the individual has been on a connecting flight, that is not a difficulty, as a result of they’ve a database of passengers going again a few years.

There was only one drawback. The one figuring out identify in the entire batch of letters was one Rachel DeGolia — and he or she hadn’t been on the flight.

Haffner and her colleagues tried their greatest. They combed by their passenger knowledge however could not discover any report of a Rachel DeGolia — “It goes again two or three years, however with the pandemic she in all probability hadn’t traveled,” she says.

“We have been attempting to match the names within the letter together with her final identify, however clearly hers is a married identify.”

After every week of working search after search, Haffner went off piste. She determined to desert the Southwest database — and turned to Google.

And there she discovered particulars of a Rachel DeGolia from Ohio.

“I used to be like, what are the probabilities — it is bought to be her,” she says. She managed to trace down a cellphone quantity.

“At 9 p.m. one evening I bought this name,” says DeGolia. “She mentioned she was Sarah from Southwest, and I ended her — I mentioned, ‘Did you discover the letters?’ I could not imagine it, it was superb.”

Haffner, for her half, had “goosebumps.”

“This was probably the most treasured factor I’ve ever needed to find,” she says. “When financial stuff goes lacking, persons are relieved we now have it — telephones, laptops, purses, they’re glad you will have them however they don’t seem to be sentimentally connected.

“However this was as soon as in a lifetime. Rachel bought tremendous choked up, and I did too.” She begins tearing up as she remembers their dialog.

“The day earlier than, I might gone dwelling considering, ‘We’re not going to have the ability to discover them, we’ll need to ship them to Misplaced and Discovered,'” she says. “But it surely’s so large, and I knew the probabilities would diminish of them being positioned. It was so apparent these letters meant a lot to somebody. I simply could not do it.”

A legacy discovered

Rachel DeGolia now has a record of her mother's life -- seen here in 1979.

Rachel DeGolia now has a report of her mom’s life — seen right here in 1979.

Rachel DeGolia

Usually, Southwest clients should pay the transport charge to be reunited with their misplaced baggage. However this time, Haffner supplied to pay for a taxi to get them again to the household. DeGolia did not even belief that, anymore — she despatched her sister-in-law straight to the airport to select them up, though by that time Haffner had gone dwelling.

“Rachel wrote me a letter — an old style observe, mailed to Halfway,” she says.

“It was so appreciative, and so humorous — she mentioned she could not imagine we would discovered them, that they’d really believed they have been gone, and that in any other case they’d have needed to kill her brother. That is their household legacy, and I used to be so glad we have been capable of finding them. These letters have been clearly meant to be handed down by the generations.”

DeGolia, in flip, calls Haffner a “fantastic younger lady” for saving this “snapshot of what [my mother was like] rising up.” An extended-time Southwest passenger — “We’e been flying for the reason that airline opened, as a result of our childhood dwelling was 10 minutes from Halfway” — she’s delighted her loyalty has been repaid.

In the meantime, she and her household are discovering nonetheless extra letters. “My household have been prolific letter writers, and I’ve containers that my grandmother wrote,” says DeGolia. “And I believe my mom stored each letter my grandmother despatched her, and he or she wrote her nearly on daily basis for years and years.”

Though she’s cautious so as to add: “I can guarantee you they have been scanned, now.”

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