The Generosity of Strangers

My son was eight months old the first time I took him on an airplane. He threw a massive fit during the 20-minute descent, but the people around us were remarkably kind. Everyone was sympathetic to my wife and I, and especially to Gabe. I was inspired.

I recently shared a theory with some co-workers: “the world would be a better place if we treated everyone like they’re traveling with an eight-month-old child.” Then a co-worker who was clearly not moved said, “I’ve got the perfect solution – two types of planes, one for people with kids, one for people without.”

That idea was popular among the largely childless group, which did not give me a ton of confidence as my son and I prepared to fly to Iowa to visit relatives. Maybe I was lucky the first time and people are not fundamentally generous and understanding just because you have a child.

We ran into a highway closure on our way to DFW Airport, which caused us to arrived a little less than 30 minutes before takeoff. I hustled in, carrying a large duffle bag, a car seat, two carry-on bags, and my son. I had our boarding passes on my phone, but we were too late to check bags, so I’d need to lug everything through security.

With 20 minutes until takeoff, we took our place in line – about 40 people deep. I called my wife to tell her we were not going to make that flight, and the next one to our rural Iowa destination was scheduled to leave seven hours later.

The only thing I hate more than being late and asking for help is being stuck in an airport for 8 hours with a two-year-old. I asked an airport employee watching over the line if there was anything he could do for me. He allowed me to use Priority Boarding, which was nice of him, but there were still ten people ahead of us in this shorter, but equally slow-moving line.

A man in his forties, traveling alone, was directly in front of us. He sensed my uneasiness because I am horrible at hiding negative emotions, especially when I am carrying an apartment worth of stuff and a little human. He asked when my flight left.

“Less than 20 minutes,” I said.

“Go ahead of me,” he said.

That set off a chain reaction, and every single person in line let us cut. Thanks to the generosity of strangers all we had to do was make it through security and run like hell. I hurried to put my shoes back on and collect our bags, then picked up Gabe and hauled ass through the airport.

You know you’re not in peak physical condition when your two-year-old son mocks your heavy breathing as you run through an airport. It was like Fat Dad CrossFit, and I was fading. That’s when another man in his forties, traveling alone, asked me which gate I was heading to.

“B32,” I said.

“B34 – let me take the car seat,” he said.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

I barely finished the question before he nodded, grabbed the car seat, and power-walked the remaining six gates alongside Gabe and I. At the gate he dropped off the car seat, and I tried to thank him as sincerely as I could while being told to hurry onto the plane.

“No problem, he said. “I’ve been there.”

If we had separate flights for people with kids, most of the people on our flight wouldn’t have seen the perfect little traveler Gabe has become. And I wouldn’t have been able witness the kindness and generosity shown to my son and I by total strangers with nothing to gain.

My theory holds.

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