A woman flying to see her dying mother was the plane's only passenger

Sheryl Prado got a special shout-out from flight attendants as the only person riding on a Washington to Boston flight.

Posted: Apr 4, 2020 8:50 AM
Updated: Apr 4, 2020 8:50 AM

Sheryl Pardo was preoccupied with one fact as she boarded her flight. This would be the last time she saw her mother.

A surprise awaited her as she learned she was the only passenger on the plane because of the coronavirus pandemic. She met Jessica and Dion, two flight attendants who turned her trip into something to remember in a good way.

The American Airlines flight attendants bumped her up to first class and addressed her personally over the loudspeaker. Pardo spent the flight telling them about her mom and the loving, get-things-done person she was.

"I think in moments like this the pain of losing your mom is exacerbated by being in this frightening time," Pardo told CNN. "Other people's kindness is what's going to get us to through this.

"I want them to know how much it meant to me," the 59-year-old said. "It was super positive, which I didn't expect from that trip."

One last trip to see her mom

Pardo boarded the flight from Washington, DC, to Boston on March 27. She was flying up for just one day, as she wanted to minimize the risk of getting sick.

Her anxiety grew as she got to the airport, thinking the exposure to the virus would be bad. That lifted when she realized how few people were in the airport.

"The second I got there, I realized that the airport was safer than the grocery store," she said. I think we all have this attitude of airplanes are really dangerous, and there would be exposure, but there was nobody there."

Most of the airport was locked down, except for a Dunkin' Donuts, she said. Only a few people sat in the departure lounge at 6 a.m.

A unexpected delight was found in flight

Going from the quiet of the airport to the energy on the flight was a warm welcome.

The flight crew and Pardo laughed about only having one passenger. They had fun with it in the otherwise-scripted onboarding message.

"And we have Sheryl as our passenger today, living it up in first class, mama," flight attendant Jessica said in a video. "Everybody shout out to Sheryl, the only passenger on the plane."

Later the captain came on and said, "Sheryl, we are now up to 10,000 feet."

Pardo and the two flight attendants even took a selfie together. Don't worry, they were standing 6 feet apart, even though the angle makes it look closer.

"The flight attendants were so great ... and it was kind of fun," Pardo said. "I was obviously anxious about seeing my mom for the last time, so it was kind of awesome to just laugh."

She was touched by the light-hearted mood and how one particular flight attendant asked about her mom without making it sad.

Jessica told Pardo her "whole life story" and the two bonded instantly with their similar personalities and optimistic outlooks, she said.

"This is not a tragic situation because my mom had dementia and had really been declining," she said. "She was living in a stage of life she would not have wanted prolonged, and she was in hospice."

"(Jessica) was like the perfect antidote," she said.

Her mom dedicated her life to helping others

Jessica asked Pardo about her mom and wanted to know what she was like.

Pragmatic, gets things done and loving -- these are the words Pardo used to describe her mom, Sandra Wilkins.

Her mother worked as a school nurse and later in life, she went back to school to get a master's in human ecology. She spent years helping refugee families in the US and she volunteered in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

The family came together to help their mom as she fell under the cloud of dementia.

The past two months were hard, with frequent trips to the emergency room, a fall and infections. The rehabilitation center where she stayed was closed to visitors because of coronavirus, so Pardo and her brother couldn't even visit for a while.

Pardo got to spend a day with her mother, who was already drifting off to the next life. Her mom, her role model and her biggest fan, passed away the next morning on March 28. Her son and daughter-in-law were holding her hands.

She was 83 years old.

Pardo and her family plan to host a memorial, perhaps in the summer when things may be safe. They plan to celebrate her in Ithaca, New York, where their mother raised them.

"When we all get released from captivity, we'll do a celebration together of Sandra's life," Pardo said. "It feels like reality is suspended right now. I feel like it's going to hit me differently when life returns to normal."

The scene was just as surreal when Pardo returned the same night from Boston on a 10:30 flight.

"It was also this very eerie experience of being the only one dropping off the car at the rental, the only one on the bus going to the airport," she said. "The TSA people were delighted to see me."

She once again became a VIP passenger -- she was the only person on the flight back.

"It's been fun to have people care about this story and to get to elevate the flight attendants who have a really hard job and who I'm sure scared going to work right now," Pardo said. "I want them to know how much it meant to me."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 844594

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1160612006
Mobile741651379
Madison53255732
Shelby38313368
Baldwin38061589
Tuscaloosa35996641
Montgomery34473781
Lee25541263
Calhoun22582518
Morgan22441406
Etowah20009517
Marshall18771316
Houston17723425
St. Clair16863358
Limestone16123218
Cullman16032303
Elmore15902294
Lauderdale14945306
Talladega14186299
DeKalb12957269
Walker12011380
Blount10700192
Autauga10512157
Jackson10151194
Coffee9412192
Colbert9325208
Dale9013191
Tallapoosa7248201
Russell707465
Chilton7015170
Escambia6951143
Covington6926195
Franklin6337108
Chambers5778142
Marion5400130
Dallas5283209
Pike5114109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4777110
Geneva4640136
Bibb434094
Barbour369180
Butler3433100
Marengo342393
Monroe336666
Randolph334067
Pickens333188
Fayette329885
Henry320566
Hale317989
Cherokee316963
Crenshaw260477
Washington256952
Cleburne254360
Lamar251253
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192762
Coosa184647
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139041
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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