Imagine your reaction. You're flying commercial, and you're asked suddenly to help a disabled stranger--basically stand by their side for the rest of your cross-country journey.
It's wonderful to imagine you might respond kindly and generously. We'd all like to think so.
Perhaps that's why, when we hear stories of extreme kindness in economy class, they often go viral. Especially when there are photos and social media involved.
Case in point: what happened recently on an Alaska Airlines flight from Boston to Portland, Oregon.
"A beautiful reminder that there are still good, good people"
Clara Daly, 15, was traveling home to California via Portland with her mother.
When flight attendants asked over the PA if anyone on the flight knew sign language and could help communicate with a disabled passenger, she volunteered. She's spent a year learning ASL, mainly because she has dyslexia, and it's fairly easy for her to study in school compared other languages.
The passenger in need, Tim Cook, 64, is both deaf and blind. He'd been visiting his sister in Boston, and was returning home alone to Gresham, Oregon. He can speak clearly, but he wasn't able to understand anything that flight attendants and other passengers were saying to him.
A woman who was sitting in the same row, Lynette Scribner, described what happened in a now-viral Facebook post, focusing first on how another man and the flight attendants tried to help Cook--and how difficult that was--and then how Daly got involved:
"For the rest of the flight [Daly] attended to Tim and made sure his needs were met. It was fascinating to watch as she signed one letter at a time into his hand. He was able to 'read' her signing and they carried on an animated conversation.
"It was a beautiful reminder, in this time of too much awfulness, that there are still good, good people who are willing to look out for each other."
(Scribner's full Facebook post, which credits not only Daly but other passengers and the Alaska Airlines flight attendants, is included in full at the end of this article. Daly's mother, Jane Daly, also posted describing everything from her perspective.)
"They call you, like, extraordinary. but it's just something that you do."
As the story went viral, Alaska Airlines and local television stations tracked down both Cook and the Daly family. Daly recounted to KGW in Portland her reaction when she heard the PA announcement looking for help.
"I was like, 'Doesn't seem too hard. Let's do it!'" Daly said. "I finger-spelled, 'How are you? Are you okay? Do you need anything? For the last hour of the flight just we were talking, having a conversation about life,"she recalled.
She also said she was surprised by the attention her act of kindness brought.
"They call you, like, extraordinary," Daly said, "but it's just something that you do. He took such joy in a small conversation that we take for granted being able to have."
Not supposed to be on the flight
It's striking how often these kinds of viral airborne acts of kindness happen, and we learn afterward that at least one of the people involved "wasn't supposed to be on the flight."
The man who took care of his seatmate's toddler on a recent American Airlines flight, and a United Airlines passenger who came to to the aid of a woman who was being "fat-shamed" by another passenger, and a physician's assistant who saved a boy's life on American Airlines, for example, all told me that it was only at the last minute that they wound up on their flights.
It's the same story here: Daly and her mother were on the flight only because their earlier trip from Boston to California was canceled. So they wound up being rerouted through Portland on this separate Alaska Airlines flight.
It's also striking how word of small acts--both kind actions and not-so-kind ones--often spreads so quickly now. And much like Daly recounted, it's often surprising to the people involved that their experience attracts so much attention.
So, two takeaways:
First, especially on air travel, remember you're only a Facebook post from being known permanently for whatever behavior you exhibit, good or bad.
And second, wouldn't it be nice if the airlines themselves would learn the lesson that these travelers keep demonstrating? People won't remember what you do or say, but they'll always remember how you made them feel.
Here's the Facebook post that started this all: