To see the best and worst of human behaviour, look no further than an airport or plane. Stress levels can soar when we’re swamped by thousands of people, also trying to get from A to B at the speed of light. Let’s face it, travel can be exhausting, uncomfortable (the majority of us don’t get to turn left), and isn’t always done for fun. When this is all mixed up together, along with those who are just plain scared of flying, the pressure cooker starts to reach bursting point.
But. And it’s a big but. Does this give anyone the right to behave in a less than desirable way? I could write an essay on the negative experiences I’ve encountered, including watching a group of men push to the front of a security queue at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, just a few days ago. They didn’t even blush with embarrassment as they bypassed the young families on their knees from travelling with babies. The negative examples will stop right here. We’ve all witnessed these situations, and don’t need reminding of how infuriating, upsetting and downright frustrating it can be.
The refreshing news is that there are strangers who will carry out selfless acts of kindness and restore your faith in humankind. Like the two men at Schiphol who carried my baby’s stroller down the stairs to the departure gate because there wasn’t a lift/elevator. Like the woman who offered to help fit my baby carrier because she saw I was struggling. Like the passenger who offered to hold my baby while I went to the loo. Yep, my examples are heavy on the baby references right now, but that’s the phase we’re in at this moment in time.
One personal experience stands out above all others.
Two years ago in April 2017, we were living in Dubai and had three children aged five, three and thirteen months. We travelled to Hong Kong to see my brother in law who lived there, and revisit one of our favourite cities. When it was time to leave the pearl of the Orient for home in the desert, flight disruption meant we got more acquainted with Hong Kong International Airport than even us airport lovers would desire. A good number of hours later, following multiple visits to McDonalds (judge if you will), two phones worth of mobile data drained from Peppa Pig consumption (not us!), and body clocks completely out of kilter, we set off on a packed night flight.
Seated separately, my husband was with the three and five year old, while I was sitting with our baby on my lap. I love nothing more than holding my babies, but when you’re on your knees from exhaustion, all you want to do is sleep. I was squidged by the window, with two men sitting next to me. They were Chinese. I couldn’t speak their language and they couldn’t speak mine. Not a word. What transpired is that some things transcend all boundaries – namely acts of human kindness.
About two hours into the flight, the cabin crew served our meals. Seeing that I was struggling to cut my food, the man sitting next to me – let’s call him Angelo – used hand gestures to offer help. I was taken back by this, but accepted with relief. Once the meal service ended, the cabin lights were dimmed and sleep arrived for many. I tried to doze but couldn’t drift into a proper slumber due to holding my sleeping baby, who was wrapped in a snug blanket. At times his little feet popped out of the end. I was surprised but touched when Angelo gently wrapped the tiny feet back into the folds of the blanket. Then, Angelo put his arms into a cradling position and pointed towards my baby. It took me a moment to understand what he meant. Then the penny dropped. He was offering to hold my sleeping tot so that I could grab some shut-eye. Without the utterance of a word between us, we had an exchange that I will never forget.
I’ll be honest, I felt sceptical at first. Why would this stranger want to hold my baby? Should I let him? Is this a trick? Would I need to sleep with one eye open? I decided to let all pre-conceptions slide and have faith that most people are genuine and good.
Angelo held my sleeping baby for well over an hour, keeping his toes warm within the blanket, while giving me the gift of sleep.
I don’t know Angelo’s real name or where he was from, and I never will, but I will remember his kindness forever. Whenever I witness someone displaying less than desirable traits, I remember this stranger on the plane and hold onto the fact that on the whole, there’s a lot of good out there.
The stranger on the plane became my angel that night, and his kindness was immeasurable.
What acts of kindness have you experienced while travelling? What have you done to help others in transit?