I’ve always traveled quite a lot, both professionally and privately. As most frequent travelers will tell you, traveling is not as glamorous and interesting as it seems, especially when one happens to meet or bump into travelers who are not very friendly or even downright rude which is quite often.
Short inland or European flights that are filled with people traveling on business tend to be the worst. I know it sounds obnoxious and prejudiced but there is something about businessmen from the country that I live in that is “special” – they tend to talk loudly about business deals on the phone, are extremely pushy when boarding or a bit condescending to women business travelers who are not pushy and downright rude. If I happen to be seated next to one of them, they often tend to spread themselves out in their seats, taking over both armrests so that I am forced to edge into the corner of my seat. I usually fly Lufthansa on these routes and since I have a certain frequent flyer status with them, I am normally fortunate that the seat next to me is usually kept free, especially when I am seated in the emergency exit. Sometimes however the airplane is a three-seater (mostly of the type A319/320/321) and then the middle seat is kept free if the airplane is not fully booked. During such flights I have often had the experience that the businessman sitting in the aisle/window seat tends to “take over” the middle seat by either dumping his newspaper in it and/or his laptop. When beverages are served, he tends to take over the table of the middle seat for his drinks. It’s become a sort of sport for me to watch and observe how this inevitably happens. Since it’s often an emergency exit (I tend to sit in them ever since I realized that I am extremely calm and controlled in emergencies!), one has to put one’s luggage in the overhead bin. Due to my frequent flyer status, I am generally one of the first people to board the plane. More often than not, my fellow passenger in the row tends to dump his things on my handbag, quite oblivious of crushing my overcoat (if I have one) or even my handbag. Sometimes these fellow passengers belong to the same frequent flyer status group as the one I am in and tend to be very surprised that I belong to “their group”, if they happen to see my luggage tag or if the air hostess addresses me by name. Interestingly there aren’t many women in this frequent flyer status group and if they are, many have a “partner status” because their male partners are in that status. So I am a sort of rarity here but I digress.
Well, my flight today was different. I was seated in 10F and when I boarded the flight, I saw the man in 10D putting his luggage in the overhead bin and getting ready to settle in. He obviously belonged to the same frequent flyer status group since he had boarded about two people before me.
He saw me waiting and asked me if I wanted to pass by. I told him that I was waiting to put my hand luggage in the bin after him. He promptly offered to put it in for me, even waiting patiently for me to take off my trench-coat and then put it on my luggage, carefully folding it so that it wouldn’t crush.
During the flight he was a very considerate co-passenger, he didn’t “take over” the middle seat, helped the air hostess to pass me my water, even asked me if I was ok with him using the table of the middle seat for his drinks since he had his laptop on his table, and helped pass on my empty glass to the air hostess when she was clearing up.
When we landed, he didn’t rush forward the moment the doors were opened (as most usually do)! He handed me my coat and handbag, waited for me to get out and then asked me if he could get my hand luggage down for me (without being condescending, trying to flirt with me or give me that look which puts me in the little-girl-can’t-lift-her-things category). I thanked him and coudn’t resist telling him that I hadn’t traveled alone with such a pleasant and nice co-passenger in a long time. His answer was simply “that’s how it should always be” and he wished me a good trip.
This man was special and unique. He wasn’t just a very pleasant co-passenger, he inspired me to be someone who always tries to make a difference in every situation. I realized that I too was guilty of putting people in boxes since I assumed he would be an “unpleasant” co-passenger just because my experience so far of most men who belong to this frequent flyer group in the country that I live is that they are rude, obnoxious or condescending. He also made me wonder whether I was a pleasant co-passenger too; if I remained polite and kind even if the others around me weren’t; if I was normally too lost in my thoughts and in “keeping a distance” that I didn’t really notice the people around me? I’ve been having quite a difficult period lately, struggling with hurt caused by people who lashed out in uncontrolled anger and bitterness; by people I trusted talking behind my back; I have been feeling used in more ways than one. And in addition to that I am physically exhausted by the ever growing responsibilities of a challenging and new job. The small things that this man did with a normalcy and kindness made me smile, touched my heart and lightened my spirits that I had a smile on my face long after. It inspired me anew to do my best to make a difference in the big and small things that I do; in the lives of the people I meet, even fleetingly; that through these small and “normal” gestures God would use me to bring joy and light in the lives of others.
Thank you to the man in seat 10D on the flight LH 2166 from Munich to Leipzig. Thank you for showing me that there is a lot of kindness and goodness in this world, for the lightness that I still feel and the smile that I have on my face when I think about how nice and kind you were.