By Maggie Beamguard
I recently found myself on numerous unexpected cross-country flights. While I wish I could say the trips to California were to enjoy sunsets and wine country, they were to visit with family during a season of bereavement. Travel is tough enough when you are going somewhere that gets you an umbrella drink in your hand when you arrive.
There are such horror stories these days about air travel. I dreaded the potential winter flight delays (there were two missed connections), lost luggage (there was one rerouted bag), belligerent travelers (everyone largely behaved), coughing passengers (I came home from the first trip with the flu), crying babies (a couple, but still cute) and popping ears (every time.)
And on this most recent trip, I had the added worry that the window beside me might blow out at 35,000 feet in the air (everything stayed in place.)
On my last crossing, I was a weary traveler. When I arrived at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, I was aiming to make a connection to Raleigh through Chicago where it was -3 degrees Fahrenheit. Things already looked dicey.
When I arrived at my gate, there was no plane to get us there. Every 20 minutes, the gate agents told us the plane would arrive in another 20 minutes. This went on for an hour and forty minutes total until it finally came true. Passengers, including me, grew increasingly anxious with each announcement.
It was looking less and less likely I’d make that connection. But what choice did I have but to wait?
Finally, the plane arrived. I did a visual inspection of all the windows on the left side of the aircraft from inside the airport gate. They looked ok. I guess. No loose screws visible from my vantage point.
All the restless passengers rushed to scan their boarding passes, creating less of a line and more of a blob. I hung back a bit. It made no difference to me whether I waited on the plane or off the plane for the cabin doors to close.
A young woman, early 20s, also standing along the edge of the scrum, smiled a kind smile at me. She gestured hospitably for me to step ahead of her.
I thanked her. She and I inched forward and down the jetway. When I needed to place something in the book bag I carried, she witnessed me struggle and asked, “Can I help?”
“Well, yes, thank you.”
We ambled forth, past the first-class passengers already comfortable with umbrella drinks in their hands. Halfway down the narrow aisle, the sweater tied around my waist caught on the arm of a seat and jerked me back.
The young woman behind me realized what happened before I did and had already freed me.
“I don’t know how I would do this without you,” I said. We finally made it to our seats. She was in the last row, and I was in front of her.
When we made it to Chicago, I had 20 minutes to make my next flight — the flight home.
I didn’t look back as I ran through the icy walls of the Chicago skybridge, my breath creating large plumes of water vapor. As I hurried away, I wondered about that young woman’s name. It had to sound something like Grace or maybe Angel.
We’ll likely never meet again. But isn’t it good to know that there are good people everywhere? Her gestures of kindness were so small, so gentle. But they made all the difference on a difficult journey. And what are we here for if not to help each other get home?
Out of breath, I was the last to board the flight to Raleigh. Miraculously, it was half full. There was an empty seat beside me. If only I had a little umbrella for my ginger ale.
Contact Maggie Beamguard at email@example.com.