October 7, 2016

The Do-Good Pilot

I was so moved by the pilot’s unexpected kindness that I watched, transfixed.

Andrew McChesney

Everyone seems to complain about poor airline service. So here’s the other side of the story: my experience on a recent United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Dallas.

The plane arrived 30 minutes late from San Francisco, and the Los Angeles crew scrambled to turn it around for the trip to Dallas. But when I got to the bottom of the jet bridge, I found a woman in a wheelchair waiting to be allowed on board. I was first in line after the woman, and a crowd of people grew rapidly behind us.

The captain emerged from the plane door and, with an outstretched arm, helped the woman out of the wheelchair. The woman, elderly and frail, slowly stood on unsteady feet, a cane in one hand. The captain released her for a moment, picked up her carry-on bag and sweater, and guided her past the flight attendant and onto the plane. Once inside, he stopped and asked me to wait a moment while he made sure that the woman was seated comfortably.

I was so moved by the pilot’s unexpected kindness that I watched, transfixed. I only remembered too late that I had a cell phone that could capture this moment. I tried anyway to take a photo. As soon as I sat down in my seat, I tweeted: “Impressed: @United captain helps frail old woman onto LAX-DFW flight. #HeroesInLife.”

When the plane landed in Dallas two hours and 20 minutes later (11 minutes ahead of schedule), I saw that United had tweeted back for details. “We’d love to pass the love along,” a representative wrote.

I wasn’t sure which details United wanted, but I was determined to learn the name of this compassionate captain. At the plane’s exit door, I asked the flight attendant, who smiled and motioned to the open cockpit door. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” she said.

Captain Tuong Nguyen looked surprised at my query. I thanked him for his kindness to the elderly woman and reached out my hand in appreciation. Captain Nguyen smiled, humbly, as he extended his own hand, the same one that had assisted the woman. I could see that he considered his good deed to be all in a day’s work.

Is taking time to show kindness to a vulnerable person all in my day’s work? “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess. 3:13, NKJV).* Kindness is all in a day’s work, even when we are running behind schedule. Kindness can have its own reward. Even though our flight was running late, the pilot took the time to assist the passenger, and we landed early.

Help me, Lord, never to grow weary in doing good.

* Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.