by Bruce Myint | November 01, 2004

AAI volunteer with El Salvador children

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 (, 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 handful of
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.”