The Kind Passenger

When I was moving back to New Zealand in 2017, my flight there was not the best flying experience.

The very first leg of my flight was from Raleigh to Los Angeles. It was thunderstorming, so we sat on the tarmac for nearly two hours waiting to take off. While sitting there, I watched the time go by and saw my three-hour layover in Los Angeles dwindling away. Probably the only thing that kept me from having a complete freakout was texting my girlfriend.

When I got to LA a straight up miracle had happened: the connecting flight had changed gates and was literally right next to our arrival gate. This is crazy since it was a domestic terminal! It turned out there were four of us heading to Auckland: me, a young girl traveling on her own, and a couple on their honeymoon. They let the four of us off the plane early — before first class even! — and we hoofed it off the plane. But then a lady met us at the gate and told us they had rebooked us on a later ​flight through Sydney. Yes, even though we could see our gate and the plane was still there, they had taken us off the passenger list.

The other guy and I looked at each other and we both decided: we’re getting on that flight. We ran up to the gate agent and said, “have you closed the gate yet?” When she said “no,” I knew we were in. I said “we’re getting on that flight.”

The gate crew were really helpful. They worked hard and got us all rebooked. They claimed that they got our bags back on the original flight too, which seemed like an even bigger miracle. Bottom line, they held up the whole flight for us because we didn’t like the flight they had thoughtfully rescheduled us on.

(It would later turn out that our bags actually went to Sydney, or perhaps Abu Dhabi, but were most definitely not on our flight. The honeymooning couple seemed quite put out about this, but since they couriered the bag to me the next day then I wasn’t particularly bothered myself. It worked out in my favor, as I had a change of clothes in my carry-on bag, and I didn’t have to lug my enormous duffel bag containing everything I was moving to New Zealand with through the airport on my own.)

Of course, since they rebooked us we didn’t get our original seats, and I had paid for more leg room. I wasn’t going to complain since we had just forced our way onto this plane, but the steward took pity on me and gave me a bulkhead seat even though it wasn’t the one on my ticket. It turns out that American Airlines actually refunded me the price I paid for an exit row seat, so not only did I get nice leg room for my trans-Pacific flight, I got it effectively for free. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time.

I sat down in my new seat next to an older couple. If I were them, I wouldn’t have been happy to discover I now have a seatmate for a 12-hour flight. I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. I was in the process of moving to another country, leaving my family and girlfriend behind in the US. I had just fought (and won!) a battle with the airline. I said “we’re the reason you haven’t taken off yet. Sorry.” The man just looked at me and responded with “I’m glad you made your flight.”

That small kindness was exactly what I needed in that moment. It nearly moved me to tears. Thanks, kind man.

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