- A United Airlines worker told Insider about how she helped evacuate Afghan children to the US.
- Artemis Bayandor said she bought a suitcase full of kids’ clothes to give to their parents on board.
- She was also able to provide support and comfort by speaking to them in their own language.
When the Taliban seized control of the capital of Afghanistan in mid-August, thousands of people fled to Kabul airport to escape the city.
Scenes of desperation and terror were visible at Kabul airport as people crowded onto runways in an attempt to board planes, with some still clinging on as they took off.
Amid the chaos, defense secretary Lloyd Austin ordered six US commercial airlines to help transport American and Afghan evacuees, actuating a program called the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF).
The airlines called into the mission included American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, Omni Air, Hawaiian Airlines, and United Airlines, according to a Pentagon statement.
Volunteering on two United flights was Artemis Bayandor, a former flight attendant who now works in the airline’s safety department.
Bayandor is also a translator of Farsi and Dari, which are two dialects of the same language. Dari is spoken as an official language in the north and west of Afghanistan, and is also commonly spoken in the capital.
“United sent out an all-call email to the company employees asking if anyone has Farsi/Dari/Pashto language skills to assist with the CRAF missions we had just been assigned,” Bayandor told Insider.
“I immediately responded, I wanted to help,” she added.
Bayandor said she could empathize with passengers on board because she had experienced the same fear of the unknown in the past. She fled the Iranian revolution when she was a young girl and the experience inspired her to take part in the CRAF mission.
She said she was also motivated by United’s mission to connect people and unite the world.
One way Bayandor helped evacuees feel at ease was by responding to their needs and questions in their own language, during one of the longest and most difficult journeys of their lives.
“Knowing that I could welcome them on board, provide them with the safety announcements and comfort them in their own language was priceless,” she said.
Speaking to the evacuees was an emotional experience for Bayandor. “I listened to all of their stories, and about what their lives were like in the last 20 years or so. Then how things changed so quickly,” she said. “The things they had to leave behind, the family they had to leave behind to make sure they stayed safe.”
But the evacuees’ sorrow contrasted with hope for what the future held. “You could see that they were starting to picture what could be and what awaits in the US for them,” Bayandor said.
In another effort to console the passengers, Bayandor filled up a suitcase of children’s clothes to give to parents so their offspring had new clothes to wear during the long flights. “One little girl [who was] my daughter’s age had an accident. She was so excited to know she had other clothes she could change into,” she said.
“I braided hair. We played with my makeup. We colored. The kids were so much fun,” Bayandor added.
There were many pregnant women on the flight too. The moments Bayandor shared with them were the highlight of her trip. “I was able to play with the children or hold the babies while their parents rested and got some much-needed sleep,” she said.
All in all, “it was a truly life-changing experience for me,” Bayandor said.