Search past winners/finalists

American Airlines - Customer Relations’ “Elevation Team”

Gold Stevie Award Winner 2018, Click to Enter The 2019 Stevie Awards for Sales and Customer Service

Company: American Airlines, Ft. Worth, TX
Company Description: American Airlines and American Eagle offer an average of nearly 6,700 flights per day to nearly 350 destinations in more than 50 countries. American has hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. Connect with American on Twitter @AmericanAir and at
Nomination Category: Customer Service & Call Center Awards Team Categories
Nomination Sub Category: Customer Service Complaints Team of the Year - Other Service Industries

Nomination Title: Michelle Wanzo and Donna Turilli of Customer Relations’ “Elevation Team”

Tell the story about what this nominated team achieved since the beginning of July 2016 (up to 650 words). Focus on specific accomplishments, and relate these accomplishments to past performance or industry norms. Be sure to mention obstacles overcome, innovations or discoveries made, and outcomes:

Feeling empowered to make a difference can take customer engagement from good to great with results beyond expectation. American Airlines leaders empower employees to show customers they care through personal, compassionate outreach. It was that feeling of empowerment that led an American Customer Relations team to hand-deliver encouragement to a young special-needs student in Las Vegas.

“I am a teacher with an autistic student obsessed with American Airlines. Our school lost our special education teacher, so I am at a loss on how to reach him,” wrote Sherry Stein, a teacher at Las Vegas Frank Kim Elementary school, in an email to Customer Relations. “He carries a model American Airlines plane with him and wants to be a pilot when he grows up. He is super smart but has limited social skills. American Airlines is what he cares about. If you have any handouts, flight schedules, anything with your logo -- maybe it would inspire him to focus and learn for a few more hours. I want to be able to show him that I care to try to connect to him as his teacher.”

Michelle Wanzo of American Airlines’ Customer Relations’ “Elevation Team” received this request and instantly knew she had to let this teacher and her special student, Christopher, know that American Airlines cares.

“Our management team empowers us to think outside the box, so I decided we needed to hand deliver some American ‘swag’ to him and his classmates!” she said. “It was just the right thing to do.”

American Airlines employees’ mantra is to elevate the everyday experience for its passengers. Wanzo took that to heart when she approached management for assistance in gathering items to take to Christopher and his third-grade classmates at Frank Kim Elementary in Las Vegas. She enlisted the assistance of fellow Elevation Team member Donna Turilli.

“I had connections with the Maintenance team at the Las Vegas airport and asked them to help,” said Turilli.

This empowered response is the kind that can touch customers’ lives in unexpected ways. “Las Vegas may not be my own community,” Wanzo said, “but American Airlines is a global community – and that makes Las Vegas my community, too.”

The Phoenix-based Customer Relations duo traveled to Las Vegas in their free time and partnered with additional American employees there to meet Christopher and his schoolmates. They gathered American Airlines “Passports”, “first wings” pins and airplane rings for Christopher’s class. The aviation-loving Christopher also received American Airlines posters, his favorite “American Way” magazines, a backpack and a new American Airlines model airplane.

“I just love American Airlines’ planes!” Christopher told Wanzo when he met her. He knows endless facts about American Airlines’ aircraft and dreams of piloting one someday.

The surprise visit from American has renewed Christopher’s interest in school and he has become more engaged in class, his teacher said. She said Christopher and his classmates have a sense of community that didn’t exist before American’s visit.

“Your visit had such a huge impact not only on Christopher, but the whole school,” noted Stein. “His fellow students saw how much he knew about airplanes and now see him with a new outlook.”

Stein has asked the American team to return to Frank Kim Elementary for an upcoming career day, and, of course, Wanzo and Turilli are on board.

“I’m so proud to work for American Airlines Customer Relations,” said Tirulli. “It meant so much to the children, but the gratification, love and peace we felt doing something good for these kids – our future customers -- made our hearts happy.”