One voice lifts another

Our flight arrives at the gate over an hour late. Flight attendant asks us to let people through who have tight connections.

As soon as the seatbelt lights go off, 3/4 of the passengers stand up and clog the aisle.

Two fairly small passengers try to push through, a white woman and a black woman. (All genders and races in this post are my guesses, of course.) They keep saying “we have a tight connection, can you let us squeeze through?” People shift aside for them for about five rows, and then stop shifting aside for them and start ignoring them. They’re stuck behind a tall white man.

I start composing a Facebook rant in my head about how people ignore the request to let people through for tight connections. I think about what y’all might say in response to that, and I think one of the questions might be “What did you do to help, Jed?”

But I’m several rows back, and in a window seat; I can’t physically get to the blockage. And I lost sight of the two people trying to get through, and the two who I think they are are now waiting quietly so maybe I’m wrong about those two being the ones who were trying to get through. I sometimes misunderstand situations and make things worse by trying to make them better.

So I go back to composing the Facebook rant.

And then someone near me mutters, “you’d think the flight attendant would take some leadership and get people to move aside.” And I look again and this time it’s clear that the two who were trying to get through earlier are indeed the two who are stuck behind the tall guy.

So I stand up, in my window seat, and I yell, “Hey! People who don’t have close connections! Please move out of the way for people who do!”

And half a dozen people in the blocked area turn and look at me, mildly curious. And then they turn away and resume standing in place. I get mutters of approval from people near me, but essentially no reaction from the people who were blocking the aisle.

Too easily defeated, I sit back down again. But a white woman near me (who also doesn’t have a connecting flight) takes up the mantle. She starts calling out for people to move aside.

Right around then, the plane doors open. Heartened by the support, I stand again and yell for people to sit down if they don’t have tight connections. The woman is calmer and more perseverant than I; she continues to firmly and loudly tell people that there are a bunch of tight-connection folks in the back. The aisles clear out. The tight-connection people stream forward. The woman near me keeps people further forward informed—“two more, coming through!”

And everyone with tight connections gets off the flight, and then we go back to regular offboarding.

I think the main thing I conclude from this is that it’s possible for people to help each other be brave in social situations. If someone hadn’t complained aloud, and if I hadn’t been thinking in terms of letting down y’all who’ve been working for change in various ways, I don’t know that I would have had the nerve to make a start. (Edited to add: also, if the two women trying to get through hadn’t been vocal in their attempts to get through in the first place, I might have been too uncertain about the situation to try to help, and if the flight attendant hadn’t made the original announcement, I might not have been willing to follow up.) My attempt wasn’t good enough, but it helped someone else make a more effective attempt. And together, we helped out. I don’t know if anyone made their flights because of us who wouldn’t have, but it seems possible.

So I encourage us all—especially Future Me—to remember that collaboration can help embolden people to work to improve things.

Originally published on Facebook. Note I added there:

I imagine that some of the people who were blocking the aisle ahead of us also had tight connections, but if so, they weren’t saying anything to the people ahead of them. I very much doubt that everyone in the aisle had tight connections; most of them seemed calmly unconcerned.

It’s true that until the doors opened, there was a limit to how far people with tight connections could go. But that limit was way farther ahead than where they were.

One Response to “One voice lifts another”

  1. Sumana Harihareswara

    Thanks for the story! We can totally help each other be brave!


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