Flight attendants are the pinnacle of human kindness: a travel story

In the spirit of American Thanksgiving, I thought I’d post about a group of people I’m incredibly thankful for: flight attendants.

See I was always raised to be polite to service staff. They’re working people, just like me, and making their lives a little easier it just the right thing to do. It’s the golden rule: treat people well, and they’ll do right by you.

Flight attendants take this to another level. Like seriously, these people put up with so much complaining and rage and travel stress. They witness the dark side of humanity: the jet-lagged, hungover outbursts and the desperate attempts at bending rules. And through it all, they still manage to be legitimately nice people.

Hopefully, the story I’m about to share will show you what I mean….

The Frankfurt airport is a mess. German engineering only goes so far toward controlling hoards of holiday travelers rioting about their overbooked flights. As the delays get worse, more and more people start approaching the counter to complain, and the bids for giving up your seat skyrocket. I seriously consider taking one, but I’m exhausted and dirty and haven’t seen my dog in six months.

You can’t put a price on homesickness, I’ve learned.

When they finally start boarding the flight, I’m overjoyed. Only 12 hours until I get to breathe that sweet San Francisco air and taste that home cooked American food. The plane is one of those massive multi story jumbo jets that has all the fixings for a luxury journey—wine, real restaurant quality food, and angry rich people. It’s my first time not flying a budget airline. Truth be told, I’m only on this flight because a family friend of the guy I stayed with in Cairo works for a travel agency and got me an incredible discount.

A first time luxury flyer, I didn’t realize that airlines like these have many entrances. People start rushing by around me, flowing into different lines and down stairs and into the behemoth of an aircraft. I pick one at random and follow the crowd.

As you can probably tell, I chose wrong.

I’ve managed to get myself into the first class level of the plane, where passengers are lounging on spacious chaises and receiving their pre-flight champagne. People are looking at my messy hair, my dirty running shorts (even though it’s cold, I’m just too excited to be back in a country where I’m allowed to wear them after six months in the Middle East) and regarding me like a stray dog somebody let into their homes.

With this classy audience to watch, I put my head down and flee to the back of the plane, where the stairs are.

I take my walk of shame like a champ.

The only issue now is that the plane is still boarding—from the opposite direction. I can’t reach my seat without going against the flow of traffic. “You’ll have to wait until everybody else is seated,” the flight attendant in the back of the plane tells me.

I settle into a nice, shameful corner and start making some casual conversation, asking her about her holiday, how busy things seem.

“Working the holidays is always stressful.” She explains. “We don’t get much time with our families, because airplanes always need staffing. We end up very far away from them. Planes are more crowded, people are more anxious to get home.”

I felt a little guilty, flying home to my family knowing that her job demanded that she fly 7,000 miles away from hers. And to top it off, I was doing stupid things like boarding the plane wrong.

As I was packing up for the airport in Istanbul, my travel companion gave me a bit of advice.

“When you get to the airport, drop a few bucks at duty free to get some chocolate or something. If you give it to the flight attendants, they’ll be extra nice to you. Sometimes they even bring me the extra champagne after they’re done pouring it in first class.”

I took his advice and spent my last Turkish Lira, about $10 worth, on a couple bars of chocolate.

Now, cramped into the back of the plane with this poor woman, I wasn’t really thinking of scoring some free champagne.

Mainly I felt that I needed to atone for my stupidity.

I pulled the chocolate out of my bag.

“Here. I know it’s hard work flying around the holidays, and I hope this can make it a little better.”

The woman’s face lit up. She was legitimately so touched and excited. She opened it on the spot and sampled a single square, relishing it. Then, she tucked the rest away, explaining, “I have to save the rest for my teammates. There are thirty of us working the plane.”

I looked at the bars. There were barely thirty tiny squares in there, if that. I immediately felt that I should have bought more.

But the woman was still ecstatic. “What seat number are you?” She asked, grabbing my ticket. “That’s a window seat. If you’re not there sitting in it, somebody might take it.” She picked up the phone they use to communicate between cabins, and spoke a few words in German. “I told my teammates to keep an eye out. If anybody tries to sit in your seat, they’ll kick them out.” She emoted physically booting somebody.

I was honestly touched. Not only had she forgiven my stupidity, she had done me a real solid. No way I wanted to be in a middle seat for 12 hours. I stayed with her in the back of the plane chatting until I could get to my seat.

That in and of itself would have been a sweet story that proves flight attendants are worthy of our love, but hold up. There’s even more.

The plane takes off, and as soon as we reach cruising altitude, this guy in a crisp uniform comes up to our row. “Are you Miss Ward?” he asks me.

Oh shit. Is my first thought. As somebody who has been trained to fear authority figures (may or may not have something to do with the fact that I’m usually in trouble) this is basically my worst nightmare. Being called out by name is never a good sign.

I nod, getting ready to book it.

“My colleague in the back told me what you did for her. I just wanted to come and thank you sincerely, on the behalf of the entire crew. Unfortunately, she’s not working in your cabin, but I would be happy to take care of you personally for the remainder of the flight.” And then, the best words I’ve ever heard on an airplane. “Can I get you a drink?”

I look down at the wine I’ve already been served. “I’ve got one, but thank you so much.”

“But surely you’d like another? Some Bailey’s perhaps?”

The dude was recommending that I double fist it, blatantly giving me the green light to get absolutely plastered on this airplane.

Who was I to argue with an authority figure?

So I spend the next few hours guzzling wine and Baileys, having the most comfortable flying experience of my life. The other passengers are starting to notice the special treatment, and I can see them doing the mental math. A girl in dirty running shorts being called by name like somebody who actually matters, being treated more nicely than them. It didn’t compute The guy in the aisle seat next to me gives me a dirty glance every time a flight attendant comes by and asks, “More wine, Miss Ward?”

I’m living the high life.

Once again, the story could end here and we’d have plenty of reason to love flight attendants. But it doesn’t. We get to love them even more.

After a little nap, I see another group of flight attendants approach. One of them is the woman from the back of the plane.

“Miss Ward? We just wanted to come briefly thank you for your gift, and we felt that it was only fair that we give you one back. So we all pitched in to get this from the on board store.” They hand me a small bundle. In it is a bottle of red wine, a small personal comfort kit complete with socks, earplugs, and toothbrush (unsure if this was to make me more comfortable, or a nice subtle hint that I was visibly incredibly dirty) and a heart-shaped thank you card cut out from a spare meal tray, signed by the airline staff.

I could have cried, and not just because I was tipsy. I thank them profusely and sit there, absolutely glowing with gratitude. There was barely enough chocolate there for them each to have a taste, and still they went so far out of their way to make sure I felt comfortable on this airplane I clearly didn’t belong on. It was legitimately touching.

If this doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what will.

Flight attendants deserve your kindness and appreciation. Not just because they’re the gatekeepers to travel comfort, but because they are legitimately awesome, appreciative human beings.

So get out there and raid your airport’s duty free shop. Buy those chocolates; hang out with your flight attendants. And remember that a little bit goes a long way toward brightening the day of some truly kind and hardworking people.

Got a service staff appreciation story? Share it in the comments to spread the love 🙂

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