Single mom Danie Betts Yarbrough spoke to PEOPLE about how she pulled off the epic surprise for her son's 9th birthday
On Oct. 7, Southwest flight attendant Danie Betts Yarbrough worked her most memorable flight yet.
In a viral video posted to the airline’s TikTok this month, Danie, 36, surprised her nine-year-old son, Caleb, with a special trip for his birthday.
As she stood at the front of the plane next to him, Danie had an adorable request for the passengers. “Caleb thinks he’s going to California for his birthday. If I could get you all on the count of three to tell Caleb what state he’s actually going to today,” she said. “One, two, three...”
“Hawaii!” the passengers excitedly shouted. Caleb’s face was in shock as his mom said “Happy Birthday, kid.” Passengers cheered as he ran back down the aisle to the seat before take-off.
PEOPLE spoke with Danie and Caleb about how exactly she pulled off the epic surprise.
“Well, since I've been working, I'm away from home a bit much. I don't get to spend as much time with Caleb as I would like to, and I'm a single mother, so things are a little tight financially,” Danie explains.
She adds: “It just seemed like it made more sense to be financially feasible and make a work trip, a birthday trip. And I got my mother and my cousin and brought them along to kind of help with being with him while I was working.”
Her family also helped with the “surprise aspect” while at the airport.
“I had my mom there at the gate with headphones on him and he had his back to the gate screen…playing games on his tablet,” she says.
They also told the gate agents, so they were extra careful not to spill the fun secret.
“I didn't get to tell the flight attendants until afterwards as we were doing security checks and then we started boarding. But as Caleb came on with some little gift bags for the flight attendants, I would kind of run behind him and be like, ‘It's his birthday, he thinks he's going to California. Don't say anything.’ They kind of helped me all pull it together to keep it a secret.”
The actual surprise was more off-the-cuff since the passengers had no inkling of what was to come until the Atlanta native got on the speaker as they waited for baggage to be finished loaded onto the plane.
“We didn't get to prep the passengers, but it just seemed like the perfect time to just try to make the announcement. And that's when I got on the mic and I called him up to the front and he's looking absolutely confused on why I am about to embarrass him and how,” she quips.
She then details the actual surprise — and Caleb’s heartwarming reaction.
“Everybody yelled it, and it was so funny because it kind of shocked me that everybody participated. And then to look at his face and just see his mouth open — he was in shock. It was so good,” she says.
The surprise was definitely a win in Caleb’s book.
“I was so excited, but I did not realize my mom lied to me. I was so excited because I was going to Hawaii,” he tells PEOPLE.
Aside from going to the beach in Honolulu and Maui, Caleb’s most memorable moment from the trip is all about quality time with loved ones.
“My favorite part was just spending time with my family, mostly my mom,” he adds.
Danie says she’s just grateful to give her son the chance to explore the wide world of travel at such a young age.
“[My favorite part was] just being able to expose Caleb to some new things. I didn't go to Hawaii until I was 35 and got this job with Southwest and it was great to be able to take him, and it was my mom and my cousin's first time as well,” she says. “So just to be able to have a first time for all of them and all of us be able to spend time together.”
While soaking up the sun on sandy beaches, Caleb tried his hand at something new: swimming.
“Seeing Caleb, who thinks he can swim but cannot, run into the ocean so fearlessly and scaring the crap out of me. Just seeing the joy he had…he was so grateful for just being able to be on the beach and run around, have fun,” she said, adding, “So it was very heartwarming to know that he appreciated the small things and just being there was enough for him."
When asked what his next fun trip will be, Caleb said he doesn’t know yet, but he’s sure of one thing. “Next time I'm just going to be grateful for where she takes me,” he says with a smile.
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