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When you spend a good portion of your day reading and writing about miles, points, and travel it really is easy to lose some perspective and forget that most of the world doesn’t know what we know about those topics. I was reminded that today on a United flight out of Houston. When I travel I often pay attention to other traveling families around me. I like to kind of see what they do on the flight both to learn pointers from them, as well as to learn from their mistakes, if there are any. In the seat in front of me today there was a mother and her approximately twelve-month-old daughter. They each had their own seat, but I was admittedly a little surprised when she sat her in her own seat without any sort of restraint, and she seemed to only have a stuffed animal or two to keep her entertained for the three hour flight.
I certainly wasn’t judging them for what they did or didn’t have with them, but I was a little surprised and assumed that her daughter must be one of those very “chill” babies that is happy to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Note: I did not, and do not have one of those types of babies. Indeed, as the plane boarded and we eventually started our flight, the baby was indeed a pretty happy and content kiddo who played quietly with her stuffed Eeyore. I was glad to see this as the mom seemed a bit stressed and anxious. Again, as I just sat there and made up a story for this family of strangers in my head, I assumed the mom might be anxious about flying in general, or perhaps was stressed about how her little one would do on the flight.
As you may already know, on United flights there are often snack boxes and some limited “fresh” food selections available on-board for purchase. These snacks range from about $3 – $10 dollars and cannot be purchased with cash. They accept credit and debit cards. I don’t remember exactly when they stopped accepting cash on-board, but I believe it to be a couple years ago now. For me, that is common knowledge, but again, what is common knowledge to someone who spends their days obsessed with this sort of stuff isn’t the same as what is common knowledge for someone who only occasionally travels.
That said, this mom sitting in front of me ordered a Classic Snack box. This box has an assortment of little snacks and crackers in it, including Goldfish and some other one-year-old friendly items. So, I assumed it may be something that they were going to share as a snack. I see the mom hand the flight attendant a $10 bill to pay for the approximately $7 snack box. The flight attendant then explains that they only accept credit or debit cards. When the mom looks stunned and said she didn’t have either of those, the flight attendant then tried to assist further by saying if she had any Visa or MasterCard gift cards with her those would work as well. The mom was clearly a bit shaken up by this point, but was fumbling through her wallet to see if she had anything that would work. She didn’t.
She then just handed the snack box back to the flight attendant and apologized. While I may be a bit nosey in paying attention to those around me, I don’t actually like to intrude or interfere with what they are doing. However, this was an exception. There is a soft place in my heart for parents who are traveling alone with little ones, and since I had no idea if she had other snacks with her for the two of them or not, there was no way I could let her not end up with her snack box. So, I told the flight attendant that I was going to get her snack in addition to my salad. Of all the things in life I may be short on, credit cards aren’t one of them. The mom in front of me was very appreciative, and even offered to pay me back in cash (which I declined). She then told me that this was her first time flying with her young daughter, and that they were heading to her brother’s funeral. I don’t know how old her brother is, but based on her age, I can pretty safely assume he didn’t pass away at the ripe old age of 95 in his sleep.
This interaction just made me think about some of the things that I often take for granted. I write this on the plane as she sits in front of me alternating between giving her babbling baby hugs and kisses and looking out the window sighing and fidgeting. Those who travel certainly aren’t always doing it for fun, and not everyone can recite the spiel that the flight attendants give in their sleep. Though it was cool on one of the MegaDos when passengers got to take turns doing the safety announcements in different languages. Many of us have stuff like that memorized because we travel so frequently. We know that electronics can be used at 10,000 feet, that the forward lavoratories are reserved for first class passengers, what time the food at airline lounges switches from breakfast to lunch, what terminals in the airport serve sushi, and that many airlines no longer accept cash onboard.
However, just because some of us know that, doesn’t mean everyone does. This mom didn’t know that a plastic card was required on-board in order to get a snack. In fairness, someone who likely learned at the last minute that they were going to be traveling for the first time with their baby to a funeral, probably didn’t have the chance to learn about the on-board food purchase procedures online before heading to the airport. In this case, I am glad I was a little bit nosey as the mom and the baby both got their snack. I’m sure it is just a very minor thing on their journey to bury a family member, but if it makes their trip a little bit easier, than I am happy to have been a part of it. Gone are the days when an airline provided a complimentary snack. I felt really bad later on when the mom was hesitant to order a Coke since she wasn’t sure if it was complimentary or not.
It was a reminder that those of us who are fortunate enough to be relatively familiar with travel procedures can sometimes have an opportunity to help those who aren’t. I’m sure many of you have had the chance to do something similar on your travels. If so, I’d love to hear about it.