What a Difference Kindness Makes

It seems as if I'm blogging about airport experiences after half of my trips (such as here, here, here, and here). Because of where I live in downeast Maine, I’m dependent primarily on two airlines, Delta and US Air, both of which have – to be generous – serious problems. Not infrequently flights are delayed or cancelled, and I’m unable to make connections. This happened again Sunday night after returning from speaking at the Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down. The delay in Ithaca meant missing the last flight home to Bangor from Philadelphia.

The flight landed five minutes before the Bangor flight was scheduled to leave from a different terminal, but I tried to catch that flight anyway, running at full tilt quite a ways, only to find that the flight I needed to be a bit delayed had left on time.

So I headed over to Customer Service to wait in a line with twenty other people, prepared for an argument about having my hotel covered, and ready for a long haul before bed. When I finally got to the head of the line, I was blessed with Customer Service agent Nicole, who expeditiously rebooked me on a morning flight and got me a room at the Airport Marriott (so I didn’t have to wait for another 30 minutes for a hotel shuttle bus). She was kind, sympathetic, efficient, helpful, and she completely transformed my frustration into gratitude. I told her that in all my years of traveling she was the kindest and most helpful Customer Service agent I’d ever encountered.

The next morning I boarded my (on time!) flight home, and was sitting in a bulkhead seat. Because I had no seat in front of me to stow my backpack, I took out my food bag (I hadn’t eaten yet), Kindle, and water bottle. I was able to put the small bag of food under my own seat, and I just held my Kindle in my lap. Until the flight attendant told me I couldn’t. Nor, she said, could I put it in the compartment on the wall with the magazines. She took it and put it in an overhead compartment. When it was time to serve the passengers drinks, I asked if she could fill my water bottle, but she said she couldn’t. She told me she could bring me water in a cup, but because the whole point of bringing my water bottle was not to waste plastic cups, I said forget it. When the captain turned off the fasten seat belt sign and said we could move about the cabin, I got up to visit with Khalif Williams (IHE’s former director who, coincidentally, was on the same flight, returning from the AERO conference). After just a couple of minutes the flight attendant came up to me and said, “I know you already hate me, but I can’t let you stand here.” She told me I had to return to my seat.

I was feeling very judgmental and irritated, but then she came up to me and explained that someone was on the plane evaluating her and all the procedures, and she had to do everything by the book. She said she didn’t know who it was, and that she was sorry to have to be so nitpicky. Once again, my anger, frustration, and intolerance for a situation I was in was completely transformed.

We never know when we can be transformed, even in frustrating situations; but sometimes, almost magically, a bit of kindness or a simple explanation can make all the difference.

For a humane world,

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education

Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education

My TEDx talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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