LouAnn Alexander at her first chemotherapy session. Image: Layne Salvo via Mama Lou

APEX Heart Awards honor airline employees who go above and beyond to elevate the passenger experience. Here’s the story of the gold APEX heart award-winning flight crew and passengers who honored a Southwest Airlines flight attendant after she was unexpectedly diagnosed with terminal cancer.

LouAnn Flight Attendant

LouAnn and colleagues during her early days as a flight attendant for Southwest. Image via Facebook

On March 12, 2016, Rex Ridenoure inspired an entire Southwest Airlines flight – a pilot, four crewmembers and 121 passengers – to dedicate one last flight to his sister, LouAnn Alexander. After almost 34 years of service as a Southwest flight attendant and over 25,000 flights, LouAnn was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in February. LouAnn may have been miles away in an inpatient hospice facility in Arizona, but she would soon feel the love expressed by the passengers on the flight that night. 

Before boarding Flight 4463 from Baltimore to Los Angeles, Rex asked a flight attendant whether there might be some plastic Southwest wings on the airplane that he could have, explaining, “My sister is one of you ­– a Southwest flight attendant ­– and she’s very, very ill. I’ll be seeing her soon and thought that bringing her a few pairs of wings from me and the crew might help her feel better. She never got a chance to say good-bye to the flying she loved so much.”


The napkin notes collected on the “Leaving LUV for LouAnn” flight. Image via Facebook.

Once on board, with the senior flight attendant and pilot’s approval, Rex stood up at the front of the plane and used the intercom to tell LouAnn’s story. Expecting participation from only a few, Rex invited passengers to inscribe a message for his sister on a drink napkin. Nearly 100 notes were created, offering prayers, well wishes and thanks. From his seat, Rex had a direct line of sight to the carrier’s logo: a red heart bound by the iconic Southwest wings. Heart was at the center of LouAnn’s time at Southwest, and it radiated throughout the “Leaving LUV for LouAnn” flight that night.

Soon after, Rex created a photo album on Facebook to document the flight and share it with friends, family, Southwest employees and, most importantly, his sister, to whom the album was dedicated. LouAnn was moved by the outpouring of responses the album received, and said she hopes it will raise awareness about pancreatic cancer, which is often only discovered once it is too late.

LouAnn passed away on April 5, 2016, eight weeks after her initial diagnosis, with the knowledge that her lifelong commitment to elevating the passenger experience had not gone unnoticed.

Southwest crew

Southwest crew on board the “Leaving LUV for LouAnn” flight. From left to right: Jamie Wilson (flight attendant), Krissey Gilbertson (senior flight attendant), James Shackel (pilot), Sean Anderson (flight attendant), Aaron DeLashmutt (first officer). Image via Facebook

To learn more about the awards and see our previous winners, visit the APEX Heart Awards webpage.