The Three Men Who Stood United (and Us)

Luxury spas don’t offer “Travel with Kids” as a treatment option for good reason.

Travel with kids is fraught. For me, it involves tactical and strategic preparation for all scenarios – likely and unlikely – that could occur in zones where there are not a lot of options to handle problems, and too many opportunities for people to be anything but helpful. Nowadays, of course, there is the added benefit of someone possibly live-tweeting a stressful moment in line at The Great American Bagel.

We upped the ante last week when we took our kids on an airplane for the first time. They were nervous, of course. I was nervous, of course. So many possible issues ranging from generalized crankiness to missed flights to having The Emoji Movie as the in-flight film.

And yet.

Sometimes faith in humanity is restored in the most unlikely of places.

Our travel to our destination was almost completely uneventful. After an idyllic week of our children informing us they’d have been happier elsewhere, preferably an elsewhere with laser tag, better parents, and no siblings, we were coming home.

Initially, it seemed we would have a similarly uneventful trip home, until we checked in. Distracted by the fact that we had to repack our bags to make sure our largest luggage met the weight requirement, we didn’t look over our tickets very closely. After all, we knew which flight we were on, and my husband, when booking the flights months before, had gotten us three seats together and two seats together. Good enough.

United did everything to make sure our family was anything but united. Despite what we’d secured online, they gave the five of us five different seats in five sections of the plane. My boys blanched and my daughter cried when we caught this change – at the gate. I worried that we would end up traveling with people who would consider changing seats to be inconvenient or too big an ask.

We tried to plead our case with the flight attendant, but you know, it was boarding time and they honestly have safety concerns to attend to first. He nodded curtly and told us to take the seats we had on our tickets and he’d get to it.

My boys were in the same row, but opposites sides of the plane. One had a window seat, one the aisle. I begged a man in the same row to switch with them so at least they could be together. I was powerful, convincing, and probably terrifyingly dramatic, because the man just said, “Yeah, no problem.”

I choose to believe it’s because he saw the look of desperation on my face and the opportunity for a window seat and not the fact that he really didn’t care where he sat as long as he was sold enough tiny bottles of booze to pass out. Which he did. But he didn’t once roll his eyes at me, my kids, or the endless Minecraft jabber that the boys were already engaging in.

I still worried. My boys had been nervous on their first flight, and there was good reason to believe they needed me to reassure them on this second flight. I fretted and wondered how it was going with my five-year-old and husband, who were 18 and 19 rows back.

Then appeared the flight attendant again. He shuffled people around so that I was in a center seat a few rows back between my boys. No one even blinked. The flight attendant grabbed my hand and said, “I just put your husband and daughter next to each other, too. I wasn’t going to let this plane take off until I took care of your family.”

When is the last time someone grabbed your hand, looked into your eyes, and told you that they were going to take care of you – and they meant it?

Of course, my kids barely said boo to me during the flight. They were experienced fliers at this point and spent the time playing Minecraft and jamming their elbows into me periodically when the game got super, uh, elbowy.

We deplaned and the boys wheeled their suitcases toward the elevators so we could gather our last suitcase from baggage claim. One twin tried to get on the down escalator with his bag, without letting me help, because, as he noted, I was already carrying four bags. Getting on the escalator, he dropped his bag behind him and, panicked, tried to go up the escalator to grab it. You can imagine how that went. The man behind me gently tapped my shoulder, asked if he could help, swooped down, got the bag, helped my son right himself, and, twenty seconds later at the bottom of the escalator, disappeared from our lives. Or at least went to a different baggage claim.

So to these three men, men of different backgrounds and ages and social strata and experiences, thank you, and safe travels.

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