Ocean Springs, Miss. native Pierce Vaughan had been a flight attendant a few months when her father broke his neck and was temporarily quadriplegic.
As Christmas neared, it saddened Hal Vaughan, his wife Kimberly and their daughter that she would have to work over the holidays. What happened next went viral through the Facebook post of a passenger from Toledo, Ohio.
The parents had discussed the possibility of Hal Vaughan using standby status to fly with their daughter on Christmas Eve and Christmas and stay with her during layovers.
“My mom really took one for the team and stayed home with all of the pets so he could take his first trip since the accident with me,” Pierce Vaughan said.
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Airline passenger Mark Levy sat next to her dad on a Christmas Eve flight from New Orleans to Detroit and learned their story.
He posted a picture and comments on Facebook, resulting in the story being published across the United States and other countries including Australia and the United Kingdom. The post has more than 170,000 reactions and 34,000 shares.
“I’m glad I could share such a great Christmas story about an amazing father and his daughter,” Levy told the Sun Herald.
The public’s response has been astounding to all of them. But for Pierce Vaughan, having her father fly with her was a milestone celebration.
“All of this attention has been so unexpected but obviously very exciting,” she said. “It didn’t even occur to us that what we were doing was spectacular enough to gain such a captive audience! All in all, this has been a completely incredible experience.”
Pierce Vaughan graduated from Ocean Springs High in 2012 and graduated from Ole Miss in 2016, majoring in hospitality management. She moved to Manly Beach, Australia, for a year to live and work, then returned to the states. She planned to attend law school but decided she wanted to travel first.
The parents and daughter have remained close since she left Ocean Springs. Her parents joined her at The Grove in Oxford for tail-gating parties. They were with her to celebrate her birthdays, most recently when she turned 25, and traveled to Australia to spend Christmas with her one year.
After leaving Australia, she filled out online applications for flight attendant jobs at a friend’s suggestion, “with no real expectations, although the career had always peaked my interest,” she said.
Pierce Vaughan was hired as a Delta flight attendant in October 2017. She moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, because her base for outbound flights is Detroit. She flies home to spend time with her parents on the Mississippi Coast as often as she can.
Plus, her parents are eligible to enjoy the same standby flight benefits as their daughter.
When her father broke his neck, it was uncertain if he’d learn to walk again. But he did, and within a little more than four months, he gained his strength and was able to start moving about on his own. He still has physical therapy several times a week.
“Tragedy can force a reality check and remind you to cherish all of the time with loved ones no matter how you have to go about getting it,” his daughter said.
Her father made sure it wasn’t her first Christmas to fly alone.
After the flight to Detroit, she worked three flights with her father as a passenger from Detroit to Fort Myers and back to Detroit, then on to Hartford. He flew from there to Atlanta and on to New Orleans, returning to Ocean Springs on Wednesday.
“I will certainly never forget my first Christmas as a flight attendant and am so, so fortunate that everything went so flawlessly,” Pierce Vaughan said.
“My dad is the real story here for tagging along. I was simply doing my job!”