How An Individual’s Concern Can Overcome the Indifference of Many

Each year I plan an annual sojourn with a group of close friends to go south and enjoy some time together, reminiscing and watching the World Series. After a very demanding 10 months spent working the company through some challenging economic times and developing our new business magazine, 850, I needed to drop out and just stop. 

So, as I sat comfortably at my favorite seat – in the bulkhead row – and the door closed, I was kicked back reading and feeling free, unstressed and ready for takeoff. Suddenly, the plane door opened again and being helped in was a physically challenged woman in complete hysteria, holding her cat and dragging a 40-pound carry-on bag. She sat right next to me.

As the two Delta flight attendants made an outstanding attempt to help this woman calm down, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop – and learn of her plight from the previous 45 minutes attempting to board this international flight. Ultimately, the flight attendants had to leave and get the 200-passenger plane ready for departure. The first thing I noticed was that everyone around this passenger was feeling very uncomfortable and changed their body posture to avoid this person in dire straits. 

If you will recall, a year or so ago I wrote an article about the total indifference I saw aboard a plane as a fallen soldier was being returned home – that still haunts me. So, in this instance, I decided it was up to me to try and do what I could to help. I leaned over and spent the next hour talking the woman down from this emotional and physical crisis. 

In a nutshell: She was a five-year cancer survivor, had been in a terrible accident three years ago in which an uninsured motorist ran a red light – instantly killing her 18-year-old and putting her in the hospital for four months. She is 45 percent disabled with about 5 pounds of steel rods holding her ankle and back together and she refuses to accept government disability.

She was moving from the U.S. to a Third World country to be in warmer weather for her injuries in a place where she could afford to live by herself. In other words, I was dealing with what I would call a very strong and determined person.

That morning she was supposed to be met by a Delta subcontractor who would assist her from her connecting flight. The connection was between Atlanta’s B and E concourses – a good quarter-mile of a hike – and she had 40 minutes to make it. No one showed and no one would help at the point of her arrival. She saw an unused wheelchair and put her cat and bag in the seat and began the limping walk to catch her flight. 

On the concourse transfer train, an airline representative – known as a “meet-and-greet” employee – assumed she was healthy and just being lazy by using the wheelchair. She accosted her and yanked her so hard she fell to the ground, causing her to cut her legs and suffer much pain from her steel rods. No one – and I mean no one – on that train helped her out. They stood, staring, and then walked out – leaving her on the ground and struggling to get up. She pushed the chair so the doors would not close and crawled out, eventually finding an Air Tran employee who helped her get in the Delta wheelchair and travel to Gate 15. Can you imagine her pain, humiliation and embarrassment? Can you believe no one would help? This saddens me terribly and once again makes me question what has happened to the American people. It is truly shameful.

The ugly polarized discourse of the national presidential election is over and I hope Katie Couric and Brian Williams will just button it up with the doom and gloom repartee. I think it is time for America to get back to the basics of what made our country so great – and to not forget to help one another like we saw in those well-crafted commercials running throughout the campaign season. Because if we forget where we came from, we will most certainly lose our way on our journey to where we are going.

Please do something nice for someone. It is time to begin changing our ways. After all, we live in the region of “Sweet Tea Hospitality.” Hospitality is not measured in good service. It is measured in the way people feel getting the service. 

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