I travel a lot and I generally enjoy it. Luckily, I have been blessed with a short memory and easily forget the aggravation of flying. Then 10 days ago, dreading a flight I was to take from John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport in New York to Amsterdam, a ticket agent named Beverly reminded me of the transformative power of a random act of kindness.
I was on my way to the U.K., but stopping first in Holland to squeeze in a visit with my 83-year-old mother-in-law who was unwell. I too was unwell. I had a brace around my wrist for my tendonitis and I had a surgical shoe on my left foot for my fractured toe. It was the result of a freakish accident (don’t ask!) that had occurred only four days earlier.
I was dreading the flight. It was a night flight and I never sleep on a plane. Now I would be crumpling my bruises and braces into a coach seat where my two unknown seat mates could easily bump into me and step on me in the dark.
Although a frequent traveler, I have only been upgraded once. That was when I missed my connecting flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo due to a late departure from Thailand. Since it was Christmas, I was told that it would take four days to get me on a flight to Tokyo. I did the only possible thing, I began crying uncontrollably. Whether moved by my distress, or merely terrified, the ticket agent assured me he’d get me on the next flight stand by. He did. I flew out in first class.
But back to JFK. Although I’d already printed out my boarding pass and was only taking carry on luggage, I stood in the regular check in line to see if an agent would upgrade me. I really felt in my gut someone would help me although I had no particular reason to think that.
A Delta/KLM representative approached me, I told her my situation and she led me over to a ticket agent saying, “This lovely young woman has a question for you.” My goodness, she was already pleading my case — just as I had hoped. The ticket agent, whom I thought least likely to help me when earlier studying all the agent’s faces, immediately went hacking into her computer. “Unfortunately, the flight is not yet closed so I can’t give you a better seat. But ask at the gate and they’ll try to help you.” So far, so good.
I asked the gate agent, Beverly (I read her name on her name plate and used it), with a beseeching tone and my best hope for compassion, if she could give me a better seat. She also hacked into her computer but then told me I could buy a business class seat for 32,000 frequent flier miles plus $550 or I could buy a Comfort Klass seat, which would give me a little more leg room and ability to recline, for $108. She was kind but following protocol.
I was also kind. I joked with her and made her smile. I thanked her warmly for checking for me. I was disappointed I was not going to be upgraded but not dispirited. I had actually enjoyed our exchange and so I handed over my charge card and bought a little more comfort for $108. She told me, sympathetically, that there were only two seats in the comfort row and she would do her absolute best to keep the other one empty.
When they pre-boarded the flight, I had to first show my boarding pass to an agent who turned out to be the first agent I had approached at the ticket desk. She asked if they had given me a better seat. I told her no but that I’d bought a small upgrade. I could see her hesitate. She looked around as if determining if she could do something better for me. I probably spoke too soon, when trying to ease her discomfort I said, “It’s O.K. It’s better than what I had.” I walked a few feet and approached Beverly who was there to take my boarding pass.
While handing my boarding card to Beverly they announced that there were still seats available in business class if anyone wanted to purchase an upgrade. A surge of bravado went through my chest and I said without thought, without hesitation, “Beverly, is there anything more you can do for me? They’re announcing seats still empty in business class. I, um, have enough miles to give you if you need,” hoping she would only take my miles. Here was one last chance for the “more” I had hoped for. Beverly looked at me, then said, “Wait here.”
She turned back to the agent’s desk where four agents were all busy on the computers. She stood there for about three minutes and then returned. I thought, oh, well … for I hadn’t seen her do anything. She looked at me, holding my boarding pass out to me saying, “This is my Easter present, my Valentine’s Day present, my Thanksgiving Day present and my Christmas present to you.” Her voice was quite emotional.
I didn’t know yet what she had done but tears welled up in my eyes and I said, “What can I give you?” She said, “Nothing. Just have a good flight.” I turned and walked toward the plane looking at the boarding pass for the first time. I was in seat 1A. As I boarded the plane and began turning to my right, the steward stopped me and directed me to the left. He said, “No maam, this way. You have a royal seat.”
And so I did. I was in the first row of the plane. In World Business Class, KLM’s equivalent of First Class. A steward immediately took my bags and stowed them in a special closet. I had six feet of leg room in front of me, one seat aside me that stayed vacant and an offer of champagne and mixed nuts within minutes. I had a seat that turns pretty darn close into a bed.
I couldn’t stop smiling. At how my hope had been fulfilled. At how someone had done me that good deed I somehow knew someone would. At how human compassion won out.
Immediately I was on my cell phone sharing the story with two friends. When I made my last call to my mother she said, “Well, have a great sleep.” I said, “What are you kidding? I’m too excited to sleep!”
My flight was on Easter weekend and I wondered if Beverly had gone to church that morning and so it was in her mind to be charitable. She didn’t even take my frequent flier miles for the seat. It was her gift.
Her gift changed the whole flight for me. And it lives on. When I tell the story, my heart feels full and it gives my listeners a renewed faith in people and maybe they are more conscious to “pay it forward.”
Minutes after I boarded the flight I asked for and got Beverly’s name and where I could I send a thank you note. I want Beverly to know her gift was transformative and that it continues even now.
While on my trip I read this quote, “Let me be a blessing to someone today.” On the heels of Beverly’s gift, I carry this thought into my day now. For even more than appreciating the blessings others give us, there is huge fulfillment in being a blessing to someone else. I am most grateful that I have been reminded of this.