“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to request that for those of you where Phoenix is your final destination, you remain seated to allow those passengers with connections to other flights to make their exit as quickly as possible. We apologize for our flight delay and hope you can help us with this situation.”
What happened next was truly amazing, and a little inspiring.
But first, a little backstory.
We were on a full flight from Orange County to Phoenix. For me, the same flight I take home every-other-week. After we’d all boarded by group, and dealt with the overhead bin space getting filled to capacity, everyone was seated and buckled-in. The Captain came on, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain. We’re waiting for a maintenance check and some paperwork to be completed. I should have another update in 15 minutes.” And so, it began…
The Captain came on every 15 minutes to let us know that there was some progress, but that we weren’t ready to leave the gate. Luckily, this process only lasted an hour (I’ve seen this type of delay last a lot longer), and then we were ready to depart.
As I Iooked up from my movie (hey, I suddenly had more than the usual 54 minutes for this flight, so I was pretty settled-in to a nice movie even before we took off), I could see people around me checking their phones, assessing the delay time, and trying to figure out if they could still make their connection in Phoenix.
Other than ordering my standard Cran-Apple beverage, I didn’t pay much attention to anything but my movie until we were on final approach. Noise-cancelling earbuds sure are nice.
That’s when the request came: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to request that for those of you where Phoenix is your final destination, you remain seated to allow those passengers with connections to other flights to make their exit as quickly as possible. We apologize for our flight delay and hope you can help us out. Please ask your neighbor if they’re connecting and if they are, let’s try to do everything we can to help them get off the plane and make it to their connection.”
As we taxied, I asked my neighbor if he was connecting. “Yep, I’m heading to Des Moines.” I overheard a few others were headed to Minneapolis. One couple was heading for Albuquerque.
A plane full of passengers who’d basically ignored each other for the entire flight were talking and strategizing about how to help the “connectors” get off the plane. The conversations were happening all around me.
The true test came when we came to a complete stop at the gate. Would this new-found camaraderie lead to a change in the normal “airplane exit” behavior? Indeed, it did.
Row by row, the “connectors” were identified and shuffled to the aisle. We didn’t know anything about these passengers, other than their status as a “connector.” It turns out that some of them had stowed their bags in overhead bins that were many rows behind their seat (remember the full flight, full bin issue). This meant that their luggage had to be retrieved and shuttled forward through a very crowded plane. No problem. The requests were carried back, the bags identified, and then quickly shuttled forward by passing the bag from one passenger to another. An amazing feat of cooperation.
The “connectors” were exiting, bags in hand. Cries of “Save travels,” or “Good luck,” were heard all over the plane. As quickly as the exit process had started, the last of the “connectors,” who happened to be seated in the last row, made his way off the plane.
The exit aisle was empty, and we all sat, looking around to make sure we hadn’t missed anyone. The plane was still about two-thirds full.
The flight attendant came on, “That was amazing! Thank you all for helping your fellow passengers make their connections.” Satisfied smiles and little nods between passengers acknowledged what we’d just accomplished.
I don’t know if everyone made their connections, but I do know that they had a fighting chance because a group of people they didn’t know banded together and got them off that plane.
Scan the news and you’ll find examples of this happening every day. Complete strangers coming to the aid of other strangers, sometimes risking their lives in the process.
There are countless groups of strangers who come together to serve another, less fortunate, group of strangers. They may not make the news, but they make a difference.
For those brief moments, strangers become neighbors. They become honorary members of our family. Our focus is on solving the problem, rendering aid, lending a hand, or merely providing comfort.
We love them as we love ourselves.
It doesn’t matter that we don’t know the people we’re helping. They need our help and that’s all we need to know.