Traveling with Kindness

“This is absolutely ridiculous! I don’t know how you people can do this and keep a clean conscience, it is disgraceful. It’s the holidays, don’t you care at all what you are doing to families? We have spent hundreds of dollars on this trip!”

“I’m very sorry mam, if you will just take a seat we will do our best to resolve this issue. We understand this is an inconvenience for your and your family and I do apologize for this situation.”

The woman in front of me stormed off, huffing and puffing, pulling along her overstuffed carry on and looking ready to burst with frustration. As I stepped forward, the airline associate behind the desk smiled at me timidly, as though she were bracing for another barrage of scolding words.

Instead, I offered her a broad smile and uttered eight words that made her visibly joyful. “I would like to give up my seat.”

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At first she seemed almost stunned, and I can’t really blame her. It was New Years Day and the airport was overflowing with bustling travelers. Every flight in the airport seemed to have been oversold; and not just oversold by a seat or two, on my flight alone they had oversold 8 seats.

Eight. That’s crazy. Eight people had paid for a ticket and were now sitting in total dismay at not having a seat on the flight they paid for. Although these people had every right to be frustrated and angry with the airline companies for this injustice, at the end of the day these airline associates were wallowing in their misery with them, not rejoicing at their power and ability to deceive them. They hadn’t hand selected who would have a seat and who would not with devilish grins and mean-spirited chuckles. But here they were, the scapegoat for the computer algorithm that counted on so many people missing this flight. The airlines should really give their employees armor for the abuse they receive on the holidays. Or better yet, they should be accountable for giving people the service they’ve actually paid for and not overselling flights in the first place.

Luckily for me, it was a Saturday. I was traveling alone and didn’t have any need to get back to San Francisco until 9:00 am Monday morning, for all I cared they could lily-pad jump me across the entire United States. It was 7:30 am, feeling like the perfect time to make someone else’s day. It was the holiday season after all, right?

“Okay, so I am going to book you on a flight to North Carolina, from there you will get a flight to Atlanta, and then another to Las Vegas. You will need to spend the night in Las Vegas, but I’ll set you up in a hotel and you will be booked on the first flight out to San Francisco Sunday morning,” the flight attendant looked up at me as she described the complicated itinerary. Again I could sense she was expecting some sort of confrontation or pushback.

“That’s just fine, whatever works for you guys, I have plenty of time and have everything with me, so it’s easy for me to travel all day.” At this point, after watching the abuse this woman had taken for the past twenty minutes, I sincerely just wanted to make her feel good about some aspect of her job, and I also felt as though someone who really needed to be somewhere this day should take my seat. I had the luxury of an open schedule.

“Well, you will also receive a $500 flight voucher for giving up your seat on this flight, and the flight I have booked you on to go to North Carolina might be oversold as well, so if you decide to give up your seat on that flight then you could actually make out pretty well,” she said with a smile.

I smiled back, “Sounds like a day well spent if you ask me, making it possible for others to get to their destination while also collecting flight vouchers, can’t beat that can I?” I laughed out loud, and the airline associate also let out a giggle. “No, sounds pretty good to me” she said with a smile.

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And so began my day of intentional selflessness that ended up being one of the most self-indulgent days I can remember.

How could this day possibly be self indulgent? Well, with my sole intention being to give up my seat on every flight I was assigned to, I managed to rack up $2000 worth of flight vouchers. I also received heartfelt thanks from 4 individual passengers and a family of five who were able to fly together thanks to my seat becoming available. I received 3 hugs from perfect strangers, and an overwhelming embrace of gratitude from seven airline employees who were struggling through one of the toughest days of the year for them.

When I did manage to land a flight that was not oversold, the airline associate upgraded me to first class, twice. And when I got to Vegas, I didn’t even have to cash in my hotel voucher; instead, the airline associates there managed to get me on a flight and I arrived in San Francisco at 5:00 pm, only 30 minutes after my original arrival time.

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I can’t help but smile when I remember this day. My intention was not to collect flight vouchers (which would end up paying for 4 future flights). My intention was to make as many people smile amidst a constant stream of negativity. To travel with kindness. With the simple decision that I would flow with all that unfolded in a spirit of generosity and kindness, I ended up feeling as though I received the greatest gift of all.

It’s easy to get caught up in the streams of negativity that flow around us. Their currents are swift and they sometimes sneak up on us, sucking us into their depths before we even realize it. Each moment we live and breathe is an opportunity to choose how we participate in the world around us- how we choose to travel through it. Carrying kindness along as a companion is like carrying a life vest to keep your head above water when that stream of negativity threatens to overwhelm you and everyone around you. Kindness is often gentle and subtle, and powerful all at once.

Let us not forget how powerful it is to be kind to one another, to be kind to ourselves. Not because we have to, but because we get to; because it’s a privilege to cross paths with one another, to touch the life of another in a way that lifts us all up. When we pay attention to the opportunities that present themselves, when we lead with a generous heart, we often receive far more than we give- and in curiously delightful ways.

As Rumi so eloquently put it:

“Your acts of kindness are iridescent wings of divine love, which linger and continue to uplift others long after your sharing.”

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