‘She tapped a stranger’s shoulder, ‘Um, excuse me, sir.’ Without any pauses she said, ‘We need to make a game plan for you guys.’: Woman experiences unexpected kindness on flight, ‘We can do these things for other people’

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“Since it feels like exactly zero people are ready to fly, I feel like this is a safe space to finally unpack this travel story for you. (Haha, unpack… get it?)

Listen, this isn’t another internet complaint about the airline. It’s not a horror story, but it may leave you with a lot of questions like we had. This is a story about the day we FINALLY felt the opposite of too little customer service at the airport and how it was so jarring for our whole family.

On one of our recent flights, before all heck broke loose, we had an interaction I’m sure was meant to calm our family of four, but it really sent us into a panic.

Let’s set the scene. It was the last flight of a very long travel day and so far, we had an amazing travel experience. I remember it so well because traveling with a well-behaved two-year-old is like finding toilet paper in the stores right now. Rare.

We boarded our plane, weighed down with enough snacks and games for an international flight across the world, not one that would last 2 hours, tops. A chill flight attendant came to check on us and let us know a few common knowledge things you would know if you’ve ever flown before or watched an episode of literally any prime time show where they fly. Masks. Kid’s Mask. Vests. Lap Child Vest. Exits. Boom. Bam. Done

Chill lady left, a few more weary travelers boarded, and then another bright-eyed flight attendant made her way over to us. It was about 8 p.m. and approaching the double digits of travel time hours for our ragtag crew, but I knew this could be the start of her day, so I forgive her almost off-putting, bright-eyed demeanor.

Without taking any pauses or breaks, she got straight into it. Class was in session. We were the unwilling participants who had just got the adequate, abridged version and were now in for a passionate TED talk with surprise appearances and even audience participation.

She jumped straight in, opening up the pamphlet we’ve all seen. You know, the ones that are probably all covered in Coronavirus now and are hopefully on their way to a glorious dumpster fire? Yes, those petri-dish pamphlets.

She covered the regular stuff with more hand motions than Vanna White. She was addressing only us, but then she said, ‘We need to make a game plan for you guys for an exit, so you are taken care of.’ She told my husband, ‘Sir, you’ll have your boy. Mom, you’ll have the infant.’

Then her eyes started beyond us. No longer addressing the kids, no longer addressing us. Nope. It was every introvert’s worst nightmare. I started internally screaming as she began to involve other people. It was time for Audience Participation.

She tapped a stranger’s shoulder, ‘Um, excuse me, sir.’ He removed his headphones, probably thinking this was a pressing issue where he could be a noble dude, take action, and lift a bag or give up his seat to an elderly person. ‘I was wondering if, during an emergency, you would be in charge of assisting Mom because after putting on her mask, she will be focused on the baby.’ I grimaced at him, offering an apology with my wide eyes and blushed face. Seeing this chance to shine was only hypothetical, he agreed very unenthusiastically. ‘Wow. I’m in awesome hands,’ I thought before I remembered we are still safely on the ground.

By this time, the people around us were aware something was happening, they just weren’t sure what. We honestly weren’t sure either. She moved on to another lady who was pretending to be deep into her book. She asked her the same thing about making sure my husband was taken care of, to which I was like ‘Excuse me… he’s married, lady.’ Again, this isn’t real, and the panic I was feeling was just from the attention we weren’t used to getting, and not the plane crashing.

Finally, she asked a couple if they would also mind assisting us as they made their way to the exit. A failing lap child (mine) blocks my view so I didn’t see much of their reaction, but it seemed genuinely nice. At this point, I was still unsure why this was happening. I didn’t even know what kind of reaction I was hoping to see from people, anyways. Maybe I wanted some soap opera drama to take the heat off of us and see someone to challenge her and be like, ‘NO!’ But again, maybe I was just tired.

Also, these all felt like very HEAVY, albeit hypothetical, asks for people who randomly boarded the plane seats near us exactly .5 seconds beforehand. I mean, these weren’t the Enneagram 2’s who were eagerly volunteering to sit in the Exit Row to help everyone in an emergency… and LOVING it. These were back of the plane ballers, just like us, who wanted to blend in, not catch a sickness, not be near a screaming child, and just get from point A to point B. We don’t know these people she wants us to trust if the worst happens — I mean, what if they are a psycho who unpacks and puts away all their clothes as soon as they get home from a vacation? Yikes. Regardless of how we or they felt, our ‘voluntold’ army of helpers was drafted.

After this excitement, the flight attendant was gone in a flash. I never saw her again. I watched as my nine-year-old son side-eyed her during much of her speech and then started intently studying the formerly mentioned pamphlet, more deeply than his curious mind already does. I knew then, he felt like me. It was all a bit like when your parents start to be really into something you’re doing that they weren’t before, and internally you’re like ‘What did I do, what’s wrong, who died?’ He was a pretty skilled traveler at this point in our journey, but later, he told me his own thoughts were immediately, ‘Exactly how old is this plane?’ and ‘Is it gassed up?’

Maybe it was exhaustion or the fact I’m a nervous nelly, but it was all so over-the-top to me, an adult, that even though I knew she was trying to make us feel safe, instead I felt worried — like I was in the middle of a conspiracy. My worn-down mom brain took hold of the last two brain cells available to me that day and dove straight to the insane worry that this lady must know something. Are there elevated terror threats we haven’t seen as we spent our days filling our kids with endless snacks and taking crowded bathroom breaks? Sharknados in our path?

We were flying from North Carolina to Indiana, ALL land, but she was so detailed about the water landing, exits, vests, floats, and relying on these strangers. Granted, these were all things I had read in the germ-filled pamphlet before, but I had never heard them laid out for me, so detailed. It was at that point I realized I liked the almost non-attention flight attendants mostly gave us, compared to this over the top reassurance that ‘everything would be fine.’

After the plane safely landed at our destination, not the ocean, my husband and I talked about that new customer service experience. He wasn’t a conspiracy theorist like myself, but I did discover we were both thinking, ‘PLEASE stop talking. PLEASE don’t ask people that. These people already hate us because we have kids within 3 feet of them on this tin can, and now they are being interrupted from their chill lives to take care of us.’ Kyle joked our family felt like it was randomly selected to be a VIP and we now had an entourage of strangers who would save us from certain death, as if we were surrounded by the Avengers, not the more likely scenario of accountants.

Now when we fly, which Lord willing will be something we can all worry less about next month, and I see a flight attendant lock eyes and head our way, I freeze a bit.

I can only describe it as the feeling you get when you are at a new restaurant on your birthday and you hear the familiar claps of birthday song embarrassment heading your way. Marching towards you are waiters and waitresses. Your mind races because you don’t know if this is one of those places where they do the birthday song and dance pretty unenthusiastically because they’ve done it all day long and could literally care less. Or if it will be like that one hometown Mexican restaurant we all have near us that pressures you to stand on a chair or wear a sombrero while they sing joyfully, your friends laugh, and then you somehow end up with whip cream in your face.

Basically, when I see a flight attendant, the introvert in me panics, ‘please don’t involve other people in your hypothetical crash plans or give me so much detail I start to think we will crash.’ I think internal panic is the opposite effect they are supposed to have.

But guess what? I feel this exact same way watching the news right now. I want to be prepared, but I want to stay sane too. On our flight, we may have interpreted her well-meaning speech into something a bit cynical, but I still really did like her message and I think it’s a great reminder for what we are experiencing now.

If the worst happened, I don’t know if we could rely on Chad in 24C, who instantly put his headphones back in. Or Mary in 24B who politely listened but was probably finally away from her kids for the first time, now convinced she couldn’t even experience a plane crash without having to watch some kids. I like to think we could’ve counted on someone, even to just shoot us a reassuring glance so we felt empowered to keep our cool and calmly care for our kids.

In the unknown times like what our world is experiencing now, we can do these things for other people with a simple click, message, and even the forgotten method of a phone call. Asking about their day or their fears, and feeling empathy for the big AND small struggles they are experiencing is a great way to help others let out their anxieties, instead of bottling them up. Choosing not to roll our eyes, but to be the calm, silly example for the kids growing anxious in the stores as people fight over the last roll of soft toilet paper. Leaving medicine, food, or toilet paper (if you’ve got a stash) outside someone’s door are all great ways to help that may feel small or impersonal, but these things will make an impactful difference as fear rises. Yes, even sharing toilet paper.

Right now, our actions don’t have to be big or bold. They don’t have to have that Pinterest-y, ‘homemade’ touch. In fact, I’m sure the CDC would probably prefer if the stuff you are sharing with others didn’t. People just need a safe space to vent about the big things or small things, and that’s okay. Check on yourself, check on them, and we will make it through.”

Courtesy Courtney Abernathy

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Abernathy. Follow her journey on Instagram hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from Courtney here: 

‘I’d just turned 18 when this strange man I met minutes before gave me life-altering news: ‘You’re pregnant.’: Teen mom says ‘things from your past don’t define who you will grow to be’

‘I was pro-life, I was in church, and I hated abortion. Yet here I was, mind racing and silently ‘considering my options.’: Woman urges other pro-lifers ‘don’t demonize women for being scared’

‘She’s very vocal….’ A woman in Walmart made me cry over a comment she made about my toddler. The shame crashed down all over me.’: Mom feels guilt for misjudging stranger after noticing her comment about her daughter

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