I was trying to fly home from New York earlier this month. I say “trying” because it was evident that it was going to take some effort.
I can understand where their irritability had come from. After switching gates twice and then waiting through two delays, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be sitting in a sticky plastic chair with an oversized carry-on bag on my lap.
Airports are great for people watching and eavesdropping, so I began to listen in on the cellphone conversations taking place around me. “I cannot stand this!” “I’m never flying this airline again.” “I haven’t slept in 22 hours.” “I might as well walk home at this point.”
As the delays dragged on, people became more resentful of their lost time.
The problem is, they didn’t quite know where to lay the blame, so they took it out on the person standing in front of them. Her name was Maria. I know that because I looked at her name tag.
Maria’s shift started right after the second delay was announced. She had been off for the previous two days and had no idea that her assigned gate would look like a Times Square riot. The volume of the hornet’s nest began to rise the minute the travelers saw her.
I sat in shock as I watched people call her nasty names, insist to talk to a nonexistent manager, and practically crawl over the counter to get a better look at her computer screen.
To appease those who had been re-booked on my flight, Maria called for volunteers who would be willing to hitch a later ride. She was offering $400 a seat. My daughter and I looked at each other and my hand shot up in the air. “We’ll take them.”
“OK, thank you,” Maria hurriedly replied. “Just wait over there and I’ll get back to you once we get this plane loaded.”
Jordan and I sat off to the side and continued to watch people verbally abuse this poor worker. Eventually though, the mob disappeared down the ramp and all was quiet.
When Maria came over to us, we asked her if we could perhaps take a flight the next day so that we could spend one more night in New York City. “Sure, but I’m afraid we can’t pay for a hotel or meals. All I can give you are two $400 flight vouchers.”
“That’s OK,” I said. And then, just before she turned away, I felt compelled to say something else. “Maria, I’m so sorry for the way people have treated you today. I can tell by your demeanor that you are a lovely person. I just wanted you to know that.”
Maria paused. The look in her eyes told me that she was touched by my simple and true words. She exhaled, smiled and then said, “Thank you.”
When she returned a few minutes later, she handed me two vouchers for $500 each, $100 more than we had been promised. She also had two private shuttle vouchers in her hand so we could get downtown and back for free—another savings of $100.
I didn’t say nice words to Maria to get something in return. I just saw an injustice and did the only thing I could do in that moment. But that’s what kindness is about. We can’t control the negativity of the world around us, but we can add our own unique light and make it a more positive place for the person standing in front of us.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at email@example.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.