Mavis to the rescue: 'SAA air hostess personified Ubuntu when she tied crying baby to her back'

Baby Imogen. (Kate Whalley-Hands via Facebook)
Baby Imogen. (Kate Whalley-Hands via Facebook)

When Kate Whalley-Hands struggled to put baby Imogen to sleep during a 15 hour flight from New York to South Africa, SAA air hostess Mavis Xotongo came to the rescue.

The 20-month-old baby was restless and crying and being rocked to sleep did nothing to stop her bawling.

That was until Xotongo offered to assist and tied the toddler to her back.

Kate Whalley-Hands, who is originally from Durban but relocated to Toronto in Canada six weeks ago, took to Facebook to share the proudly South African story.


The post read: "A 15-hour flight (between 2 transits) is never an easy task for a parent travelling on their own to undertake. I had a massively proud-to-be-South-African moment yesterday when Mavis (on my SAA flight from New York to Johannesburg) took Imogen out of my arms and baleta'd her, and then carried on serving people so that I was able to eat my meal. 15 minutes later she returned to my seat with a fast asleep Immy. Mavis, thank you for being a rock star. I appreciate you #proudlysouthafrican #southafricanairways #FlySAA."

The post has been shared more than 7 000 times and liked by more than 17 000 people.

Mavis with baby Imogen. (Kate Whalley-Hands via Facebook)

Speaking to News24, the 37-year-old mom said she left Toronto at around 02:00 on April 24 to a catch a flight from New York to South Africa.

"During the flight, Imogen was understandably struggling with the time difference. She had been on a flight before because we used to live in London, but on this particular flight she was restless and crying."

Whalley-Hands, who is a procurement director, said she stood in the galley trying to rock Imogen to sleep but it did not help.

"This was three hours into the flight. When I was rocking her, Mavis came up to me and said: 'Let me help you'."

Whalley-Hands said Xotongo seemed like a trustworthy person and so she handed over Imogen.

'Imogen was so comfortable on Mavis' back'

"She placed her on her back and first wrapped her with our blanket, but it was too small so then she took the SAA blanket and wrapped that over our blanket.

"Imogen was so comfortable on Mavis' back. Mavis continued to help other passengers and [move] her trolley up and down, with Imogen on her back."

Whalley-Hands said Xotongo returned shortly afterwards, with Imogen fast asleep.

"It was completely amazing. I've flown many times and air hostesses just do their jobs. She went above and beyond the call of duty.

"I want to say the biggest thank you for not only putting Imogen to sleep, but for giving all of us South Africans something to smile about. While she carried the baby, you could see the smile on the faces of other passengers."

She said Xotongo personified the spirit of Ubuntu.

"We need to be more kind to one another. My mom said the story made her week."

Whalley-Hands added that it was the perfect birthday gift for her mother, Jane, who turns 71 on Saturday.

'I am the happiest gogo alive'

Jane said, when she heard her daughter was coming to visit, it was a lovely surprise.

"I am the happiest gogo alive. I love the story because we have so much negativity in South Africa, so this story gives you hope that one day we can live together in harmony," said the grandmother of three.

Xotongo said: "I love what I do and I do it out of passion for our airline and our customers. We rise together and look forward to the positive path ahead."

South African Airways spokesperson Tlali Tlali said: "As part of our service offering, our crew strives to show empathy and care towards our customers and will go an extra mile to assist those who are in need."

He said in reaching out to customers, SAA do not merely render a service, but show that Ubuntu is truly part of their makeup.

"Through working together as teams, the combined efforts of our crew will surely take us to a higher service altitude, excellent customer service at all times, on all our flights. Nothing is as fulfilling as a happy customer and that's the highest reward we can derive from every flight."

Tlali said Xotongo was one of SAA's exemplary cabin crew members.

"We are proud of her. She has been with SAA since 2009."

Voting Booth
How has lockdown affected your relationship with your partner?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
There is increased closeness and devotion
26% - 114 votes
It has suffered irreversible damage
21% - 89 votes
Nothing has changed
53% - 230 votes
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes morningstar logo