Deborah Quigley

Photo courtesy of Deborah Quigley

Although she is now retired from her longtime customer service, training and operations job with United Airlines, Deborah Quigley of Nuuanu might be jet-setting more than ever these days. She travels to Cambodia a couple times a year, and also regularly visits Bali and Jakarta. And as of midweek last week, she was still contemplating an impromptu weekend trip to Cambodia.

But these aren’t the sort of relaxing trips you’d think one might like to indulge in after a 31-year career. Quigley travels around the world to provide aid and assistance to others

– mainly orphans and children in vulnerable situations – as a part of her volunteer work with Airline Ambassadors International (AAI). Her upcoming Cambodia trip, for example, is to deliver vitamins to kids under 5.

“Ever since I got hired with United Airlines, I knew there was something out there that we could do to use our travel benefits to do good,”

Quigley says. She retired from United two years ago, mostly, she says, so that she could expand her volunteer efforts. “I really, really liked my job,” Quigley says, “but I think I am doing what I need to be doing.”

The group was founded by a flight attendant as a way to provide humanitarian aid to communities in need worldwide. Quigley took her first trip with AAI in 1999 to work in an orphanage that was home to 70 children. Over the years, she also has led volunteer trips to the Philippines and Cambodia, worked in a Shanghai orphanage, assisted foster children in Romania and helped establish a program to provide food and clothes for kids in Argentina. Quigley also has worked on an initiative to help keep kids in Ecuador in school and has been instrumental in finding individual children permanent homes – like Somnang (pictured here with Quigley), who had been homeless and alone on the streets of Cambodia. She has helped other kids receive medical care.

AAI also responds to natural disasters. After the earthquake in Haiti, Quigley and other ambassadors worked with their various airline connections to coordinate charter flights to Port Au Prince to deliver aid to the survivors.

Quigley also is a trainer for the group’s human trafficking awareness team. As a part of this initiative, AAI works closely with the Department of Homeland Security to educate airport employees on the indicators of human trafficking and protocols for how to respond. Quigley has traveled to airports throughout the country to conduct trainings.

“We just do what we can to help,” Quigley says, “and I just want to do more.” One thing that keeps her motivated is the idea that even a tiny effort can change the course of a child’s entire life. “I don’t think I have a choice,” Quigley says about why she is compelled to help. “It’s just bigger than me.”

For more information and to find ways to get involved, visit