Forget soda and peanuts — what if your next flight came with a complimentary wedding shower?
That's exactly what Southwest Airlines planned to surprise Kelley Mulfinger upon her arrival at BWI Marshall Airport on Wednesday afternoon to meet her fiance, Andy McIlvaine.
The airline began hearing wedding bells last October, when McIlvaine, a 33-year-old who lives in Fells Point, said he was traveling to Maine to propose to his girlfriend. (Southwest's latest TV ad is a tribute to wedding season.)
McIlvaine packed a few bottles of Champagne in his bag for the occasion, but was worried they would break. So he asked the Southwest employee at the luggage check for a few extra "fragile" stickers.
"She gave me kind of a funny look," McIlvaine, who was in on the shower suprise, said in an interview Tuesday. "I said 'I'm sorry, I've got three bottles of Champagne in there and I'm really hoping these stickers will help [keep] them from breaking.'"
That, in turn, led to a discussion about the liquid luggage. McIlvaine explained to the Southwest agent that he was planning on proposing to Mulfinger, a 30-year-old physician assistant student at University of Texas - Southwestern, on the top of a mountain in Maine and hoped to celebrate with the Champagne.
"The next thing you know, I'm talking to these five Southwest employees," McIlvaine said. Before he boarded his flight, one of the employees handed McIlvaine a $100 voucher.
"I thought he was going to give me a drink ticket," McIlvaine said. "He said 'Have fun, good luck and go get your girl. Here at Southwest we're all about love.'"
McIlvaine was so touched that he wrote a letter of thanks to the Southwest CEO and customer relations department.
"I was very overwhelmed by the gesture and wanted to make them aware that they were doing a very good job and practicing what they preach," he said.
But Southwest wasn't going to stop there. That's when plans began for Wednesday's surprise shower, including his fiancee's mother and sister, who were also flown in for the occasion.
Southwest said more than a hundred passengers, crew members and airport staff surprised the bride-to-be at the gate with 40 dozen roses, a Champagne toast and a congratulatory personal note signed by Southwest CEO Gary Kelly.
McIlvaine said all of the airline fanfare is fitting because being in a long-distance relationship means he and Mulfinger fly often.
"It's kind of funny because our relationship has evolved so much around airplane flights," said McIlvaine, who added that he always flies on Southwest because of its loyalty programs.
There will be fewer flights necessary come July, when Mulfinger moves to Baltimore. But, hey, there's always the honeymoon — the couple plans to get married in May 2016.
No word on whether any Southwest employees will be invited, but it's safe to say the couple won't soon forget the airline's gestures.
"They kind of have a special place in my heart ...," McIlvaine said.