Personal Journey: On an unexpected trip, an unforgettable meeting

On Feb. 27 this year, I found myself boarding a flight from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach.  As a frequent traveler, particularly for business, I know well the sights and sounds of Terminals B, C, and F at PHL, but this time felt different.  The entire experience – from checking in to passing through security to walking past shops, restaurants, and rows of iPads – well, it all seemed blurry.

I was scheduled to travel to Florida but not until the next day and not alone; rather, I was going there with two of my children, who were eagerly looking forward to flying on an airplane and visiting their grandpa.  But the morning before our planned trip, I knew something was wrong.

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Meredith C. Slawe and her father, Alan Rubin.

My father, an avid business traveler and proud member of American Airline’s Million Miles club with executive platinum status year after year, did not respond to my 8 a.m. text messages that shared the good news that my kids and I had been upgraded for our flight to visit him.  My father, Alan Rubin, who was an amazing person, father, and grandfather, passed away on the morning before our planned visit at the young age of 63.  When I retrieved his phone, I saw that those texts remained unread.

Travel and family were at the center of my father’s life, and he was happiest when he combined the two.   As children, my sisters and I spent our school vacations making journeys with him to see his textile customers in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Hawaii, Florida, the Bahamas, and Puerto Rico.  We went to Las Vegas as young kids – no lingering on casino floors, of course – for the twice-a-year fabric shows at the Rio and Paris hotels. We made multiple treks to Disney World and went on road trips from New York to Florida and back, making the requisite stop at South of the Border along the way.  He trained me to memorize airport codes, knew TSA employees at Miami International by name, and turned every trip into an adventure for his three daughters.

On that February morning, in a state of utter disbelief and intense sadness, I boarded the plane and took my seat.  I didn’t how I would get through this flight in one piece.  I found myself speaking with two passengers seated two rows ahead of me while I was in line to go wash my face in the restroom.  The husband swapped seats with me so that I could continue chatting with his lovely wife.  They continued our conversation after we exited, offered their help and connected me with their lawyer in Florida, and, incredibly, called my cell phone the next evening just to check in.

This couple, who shared that they lived in Philadelphia, were exceptionally kind, caring, and generous to a perfect stranger.  They made that dreaded flight bearable for me, and I will never, ever forget this true act of humanity.  I emailed them to thank them, but that didn’t feel like enough. So I write now to publicly recognize Bart and Jil Blatstein for their kindness and compassion.  Travel was always something I treasured with my father, and he would have been touched to know that someone was looking out for his eldest daughter on the most difficult trip of her life.

Meredith C. Slawe writes from Bryn Mawr.

Did a travel experience move you, change you, or give you great memories? Email us how, in about 500 words  (include a photo, caption information, and daytime phone number): inquirer.travel@philly.com. Please put “Personal Journey” in the subject line. (Response volume prohibits our returning or acknowledging every submission.)