This is Michael.
He works for Air Canada, and today, he is not having a very good day. A technical problem detected on a plane earlier was more serious than it appeared initially, so all the passengers had to de-board after already spending an hour on the plane. Now, Michael is the only person dealing with hundred people, all of whom need their flights rebooked.
You see, I rarely fly anywhere direct. It’s usually too far, or too expensive. My flights to Portland were supposed to be a lucky exception – Toronto – Portland – Toronto. Air Canada. Around four and a half hours each way. Easy.
However, last Wednesday, instead of enjoying a pint of hoppy IPA in a little Portland pub somewhere, I found myself checking into a hotel. In Vancouver. The flight was oversold, and the airline was both gracious and generous. Fine. So, the last thing I expected was to have any sort of issues on my flight back. It just seemed… statistically unlikely.
Yet here we are – all hundred of us. And here’s Michael.
I have witnessed multiple people yell at him already – everyone from an outraged passenger to a stressed out coworker. “I am doing the best I can as fast as I can”, I overhear him saying to someone on the phone.
“How’s your day?”, I ask, as I finally approach the desk after more than an hour wait. I notice his hands are shaking.
He looks up. “Believe it or not, I’ve had worse”. What Michael does not know is that I rummaged through my backpack before approaching the counter, looking for the card all conference attendees have received. I really like it, but I think Michael could really use the reminder. As he looks down, typing in my flight information, I open the card and scribble on the left side, which is still blank: “Thank you so much for doing your best!”.
He hands me the boarding passes with a tired smile. “You are all set. Portland to Vancouver, and Vancouver to Toronto. I got you the only seat that was available on that last flight”.
I hand him the card. “Someone gave this to me this weekend, and I want you to have it”.
He thanks me, surprised, and drops the card on the counter, without reading the front, in a hurry to get to the next passenger. My inner drama queen is slightly disappointed, as she already has envisioned Michael reading the card, and bursting into tears of gratitude, as we embrace each other. “This is even better”, I try to convince myself. He will get to read it after.
I spent the next little while, walking around the airport (10,000 steps!), listening to Jason Mraz, and playing with my coin.
This would be a great place to finish the story. It is a simple feel-good be-kind-to-others message. Love is in the air, and all that.
Except the story doesn’t quite end there. And the message is rarely that simple.
Boarding passes in hand, I have many hours to kill until my flight to Vancouver. I work. I have a greasy meal that sits in my stomach. I walk around the airport. I do yoga between rows of seats. I take a selfie with a skeleton. I work some more. I lie on the floor with my feet up the wall, feeling strung out on travel and homesick.
Finally, it was boarding time. I headed to the gate only to find no sign of activity. Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. Finally, the airline staff announced that the flight was going to be delayed. By at least an hour.
I feel myself… LOSING IT. Are you… fucking… kidding me? All my serenity and kindness were evaporating and quickly.
More time to kill. Twenty bucks in “we are sorry we suck” airline vouchers buy me a veggie cup, a boiled egg, some beef jerky and Diet Coke. Oh, and an impulse angry purchase of Twizzlers. “Fuck it”, I think to myself. I can use some sweetness right about now – even fake will do.
Back at my gate, I sit on the floor, with my sort-of lunch in front of me. Veggies first. I pop the cup open and set the lid filled with ranch sauce to the side, and reach for a carrot stick, as I feel a gaze on my shoulder. I feel annoyance rise in my stomach and travel to my throat.
I was supposed to be in Toronto HOURS ago. I just want to have my damn carrot sticks in peace. What now?
An older woman is standing over me, peering into my veggie cup, and giggling. “What IS that?”, she asks, pointing at the egg. “Omg, can you see it?”.
But… I.. am… so… very…. tired.
“It’s an egg”, I say flatly. “Can I see what?”.
“It has a face on it!”, the woman exclaims. I look closely. There are two small pieces of broccoli stuck to the smooth surface of the egg, in which only the most benevolent observer would have seen a face.
“Can you see it?”, the woman repeats.
“How long have YOU been at the airport?”, I snarl.
I regret my words almost immediately, as I see her face fall.
I finish the egg. The veggies. I munch on some beef jerky, and take few swigs of Coke. I ponder how easy it is to be kind when you are rested, and fed, and when you are about to board your first flight of the day.
It is much harder to be kind after spending 10 hours in the airport, eating crappy food and feeling sorry for yourself. Much harder, but much more important. Better for the soul too.
And so, I open a pack of Twizzlers, and go around the waiting area, offering a piece to every single passenger waiting.
Perhaps, a fake strawberry flavoured piece of candy is a questionable act of kindness. Yet, two kids are thrilled. Couple of teenagers – appreciative. And adults, most of whom declined, nevertheless seem touched by the offer.
One flight down. One to go.
In Vancouver airport, I’m racing through the endless hallways to make a tight connection, made even tighter by the delayed flight. Boarding started ten minutes ago. I am selected for a random pat down by security. Then my bag is pulled for additional inspection.
Finally, through the last security check, I run to my gate, cutting in front of pleasant looking young man, without even realizing it. Looking over my shoulder, I catch my blunder, and start apologizing profusely.
A pleasant looking young man smiles: “We are all going to the same place”.
“What zone are you?”, he continues. “Zone?” At this point, I barely remember my name. “Zone on your boarding pass”, he explains. “They are now boarding Zone 3”.
I glance down on my boarding pass.
What was it about this flight that Michael said? Ah yes: “I got you the only seat that was available on that flight!”.
Zone 1. Business class.
Few minutes later, I am settling into an extra wide seat, and stretching out into the seemingly infinite leg space.
Thank you, Michael, for BEing KIND.
I will aim to do the same.