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One of the blessings of operating a large airline is the ability we have to swiftly and effectively get people and life-saving supplies where they need to go during a crisis. While January’s terrible earthquake in Haiti is the most recent example of this, we have been providing “help from above” for decades.
More than 60 years ago, American Overseas Airlines (AOA), a subsidiary of American Airlines, played an important role in the Berlin Airlift, a response by the United States and the United Kingdom to the Soviet Union’s blockade of all rail and road traffic into Berlin. While the city itself was divided between the Soviets and the Western Allies, Berlin was 100 miles inside the Soviet-controlled zone of defeated Germany. On June 26, 1948, the United States and Britain began to supply the city with food, medicine, fuel, and other critical supplies from the air. AOA supported the airlift by flying tons of supplies from the United States to Frankfurt’s Rhein-Main Air Base, where they were picked up and fl own into Berlin on military aircraft. AOA was also the only U.S. carrier to actually fl y into Berlin during the airlift. By the time the Soviets lifted their blockade, in May 1949, AOA had operated 2,000 scheduled flights and carried nearly 29,000 people and 13 million pounds of supplies in support of the airlift.
The Berlin Airlift helped sustain life in that city during a time of great hardship and signaled the determination of the Allied Powers to resist Soviet expansion in Europe. Years later, in one of his most famous speeches, President John F. Kennedy galvanized the world with these words: “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’ ” Translation: I am a Berliner.
Today, we are all Haitians. Just as the world rallied around Berlin’s struggle for freedom in 1948, today the world is rallying around Haiti’s struggle to survive and recover from the devastation of the January 12 earthquake. While there is no silver lining to a tragedy of this magnitude, we consider ourselves fortunate to be able to help. Within hours of the quake (before the U.S. military took control of the airport), we flew multiple relief missions into Port-au-Prince. And since then, we have continued to transport relief workers, critical supplies, and evacuees. We are also working around the clock with the Government of Haiti and Odebrecht Construction to fix our facilities and return to our full complement of service.
As a company, we are based in North Texas. But as a global airline, we have 250 “hometowns” around the world, including Port-au-Prince, a city we have served for nearly four decades. We have strong ties in the community and a lot of wonderful Haitian employees — all of whom, I am happy to report, survived the earthquake. So it was no surprise when AAers around the world immediately took action to help their colleagues’ homeland. Money was raised through bake sales, Caribbean food sales, and other initiatives, and more than 350 American Airlines and American Eagle employees helped staff phones during the “Relief for Haiti Now” telethon.
We are determined to do our part in helping Haiti get back on its feet. But of course, you don’t need a fleet of aircraft or a team of employees to make a difference. We are collaborating with the American Red Cross to encourage our customers to help earthquake victims. Through March 31, AAdvantage members can earn a one-time award of 250 bonus miles for a minimum donation of $50 to the American Red Cross or 500 bonus miles for a donation of $100 or more. If you would like to participate, please visit www.aa.com/disasterrelief
Thank you for helping, and thanks, of course, for flying American Airlines.
Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman & CEO