Short Stories: Wakeup Call on a Red Eye

Before the pandemic I traveled quite a bit, and my frequent flier status gave me both excellent seats and a sense of entitlement. 

I was once set to take a red-eye flight from Las Vegas to the East Coast, a flight that wasn’t my favourite, but would offer me the following day off work. No stranger to overnight travel, I began my routine as standard – arrive in comfortable clothes, check in, grab a book, sip a heavy beer, and board the plane moments before hitting my REM cycle in stride. Unfortunately, a mechanical malfunction on the plane upended that routine.  We were forced to deplane and returned, groggy-eyed, back to the terminal to wait on a fix or replacement jet.

After deliberation, the flight crew couldn’t identify an alternative. A sympathetic and understandably nervous stewardess shared the bad news over the intercom.  We were welcomed to cozy up on any open floorspace in the Vegas airport until the next morning.  Furiously, I refreshed my boarding pass on my phone, confirming my departure time had changed to 7AM.  

I carried my silver-medallion-status-swagger to join the other outraged passengers in line.  Whether this was in the staff’s control was not my concern.  I seethed, preparing to unload on the desk attendants. To formulate my argument, I began listening to and collecting aggrievement snippets from fellow passengers.  But not everyone was so aggrieved.

As I inched closer to the front desk, I overheard a father, surrounded by his family, explaining the circumstances to his young child.  The child seemed agitated and confused, likely not fully grasping the situation but knowing enough to feel wronged.  While I don’t remember the father’s words verbatim, I remember him being unfazed and reassuring.  Sometimes, he explained, things don’t work out the way we want them to. We must learn to accept that, maintain a positive attitude, and adapt.

His levelheadedness, his words, and his spirit moved me – not just figuratively but literally.  I abandoned my spot in the grievance line to an open seating area where I assembled makeshift sleeping arrangements for the night. This hadn’t worked out the way I’d planned, I didn’t want to accept it, and yet I resigned to this father’s statement  Whereas I’d intended to wake up reclined in a seat to plane wheels touching the ground, I instead woke up on my hoodie-turned-pillow to my phone alarm.

But the biggest wakeup call was one of an emotional awakening, initiated unintentionally by this young dad. And it’s stuck in my head not because it was monumental, but because it was so benign. He was explaining something to his child, offering a lesson, offering encouragement, positivity. He didn’t expect me to hear him, but that’s what made the encounter so important. The impact far exceeded the intent; his gentle words resonated so boldly.  

I’m reminded of this experience regularly, and as the pandemic eases and the world reopens, I want to embody that unsuspecting positive influence. It’s so important to note that those around you are constantly observing and listening.  This is not to say they are eavesdropping or stalking you, but that at any given moment, others can see, hear, and feel your emotion, energy, and body language – just as well as your words and actions.   I’m sharing this story because I want to do better. I want to pause and breathe next time and think about how my actions in any circumstance can be a wakeup call to others.  It could be in the most unsuspecting of times that we can have the most profound impact.  

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