I flew from New York to Boston on December 18th. Because I travel so much for work, I am at the highest level of most airline mileage programs, so I often get better seats (aisle, exit row) or upgraded to First Class, as happened this time. As I waited for my flight, I noticed several Army folks in uniform also in the waiting room. A thought popped into my head: “give your seat to one of these guys.”
“I have a favor to ask you,” I said to the flight attendant as I boarded the plane. She looked at me, wondering what in the world I was going to ask for since I was already sitting in First Class. I continued, “I want to give my seat to one of the servicemen who is about to get on the plane.” She looked surprised. “You don’t have to do that,” she said. “We are happy to move those folks up if there are empty seats. You don’t have to give up yours.” I persisted, “If you don’t have enough seats, I will give up mine.”
The plane boarded and sure enough, First Class was nearly full with only one empty seat. Five servicemen got on the plane. The flight attendant came up to me. “We don’t have enough places for all of them,” she said, “but if you’re still willing, we can move up two.” I was happy to oblige. In truth, it was a small thing to do.
The flight attendant went to Economy and brought back two of the soldiers. The first one sat in the empty seat, and I got up out of mine to the surprise of the second one standing in the aisle. “Thank you, ma’am!” he said. “Enjoy the ride,” I replied as I moved to Economy. I sat in an empty seat and settled in for the short flight to Boston, kind of wishing that it was a longer trip so that the soldier could enjoy First Class longer. Even though it was a small gesture, I felt very good that I could do something nice for one of our troops.
A little later in the flight, another flight attendant who was serving drinks quietly said to me, “You will be the topic of our dinner conversation tonight.” I looked at her in puzzlement. “Each night,” she said, “I try to teach my 17-year-old son a lesson about life and people. Tonight’s lesson will be about how your small gesture made a difference in a young man’s life.” My cheeks turned red and I felt slightly embarrassed—I felt like I was getting way too much attention for this.
As I type this to share with all of you, I am happy and sad. Happy to have had this “feel-good moment,” but sad too, because how sad is it that something so small—giving up a First Class seat on a 40-minute flight—should be something to remark on and not just be part of our daily routine? (Though I admit that if I didn’t travel for work as much as I do, I probably would not have been so inclined to give up my First Class seat to someone else.) Are we all getting so hardened by the current times that an essentially insignificant gesture becomes more than it is? I would love to hear your thoughts.