An AAI volunteer
with children at a refugee camp
in Ahuachapan, El Salvador
For airline employees, the past few years have
been filled with pay cuts and layoffs. Yet, despite such
challenging times, a growing number of airline personnel are
devoting themselves to good causes. In fact, some spend their free
time providing aid to countries in need.
It’s all part of Airline Ambassadors International (www.airlineamb.org), a Carrollton, Texas-based program
founded in 1996 by Nancy Rivard. An American Airlines flight
attendant, Rivard wanted fellow cabin crew to use their travel
perks and flexible schedules to help people around the world.
Launched out of her apartment, the program began with only a
support staff. Today, the 4,000-member group has delivered more
than $10 million worth of goods to 44 countries worldwide.
Up to 10 times a month, AAI members whose ranks include
volunteers from outside the airline industry fly to third-world
villages to help dig wells, build medical clinics and donate vital
supplies. Last month, for example, ambassadors distributed food and
shoes at an orphanage in El Salvador.
“Airline ambassadors act as the human link connecting world
resources to world needs,” says Rivard. “For every dollar donated
to AAI last year, we delivered $100 in humanitarian aid.”
Those are impressive numbers, considering the industry’s
ongoing financial turbulence and the organization’s modest annual
budget of $220,000. Yet, AAI continues to broaden its missions,
helping the group earn recognition from both the United States
Congress and the United Nations. “It’s amazing what we’ve done on
no budget,” says Elaine Osborn, national coordinator. “With
additional financial support, we could do even more.”