Not Everyone is an “Expert” Traveler

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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.





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  1. […] When I travel, either with or without my daughter, my husband and I always offer to help a struggling parent out if we have the hands and the time to help.  My husband once carried a car seat down the aisle for a mom who was traveling with three kids by herself, and my daughter has shared a coloring book or a toy with a nearby child.  Every little bit helps!  And it is nice to hear that other traveling parents out there like to help out as well. […]


  1. I had some AmEx Platinum airline reimbursement $ that were about to go to waste so purchased snacks and drinks for some surrounding passengers.

  2. This post broke my heart a little bit! You never know what other people are going through and kindness goes a long way, especially in the madness of air travel. Whenever I travel solo (rare these days), I always go out of my way to help a mom with a young kid if I see a need because I’ve been there. And my daughter has been known to share toys and books with other kids sitting around us too. Good life lesson for all!

  3. Gorgeous anecdote and a great departure from the standard travel deal / point hoarding posts (which I am of course hopelessly addicted to).

    Thanks so much for this!

  4. I am so glad to be associated with you Mommy Points, another fantastic family friendly travel partner! I had to laugh at the comment on not being short on credit cards. Too funny.

  5. Very, very sweet post, especially in contrast to the unfortunately too-common tendency of some in the mileage community to refer to infrequent travelers as “gate lice” and the like.

  6. I saw a gentleman return a drink to the attendant on my last AA economy flight. It seams so strange that a traveler doesn’t have one credit card! I almost offered to pay with my Platinum card, but I figured he will get that drink someplace that takes cash.

  7. That was very kind of you and she sounded like a nice lady. I have never really liked folks on FT and in the community who refer to travelers as amateurs or kettles, as most people do not travel much and the experience can be overwhelming at times. I mean really, just because some airline gives you an embossed card with your name on it does not mean you have accomplished anything.

    Even i am sometimes forgetful, get in the wrong que, or screw something up at the security checkpoint. So props for bringing some warmth to a fellow traveler going to her brother’s funeral.

  8. Good for you, MP. You have a big heart, and that story really touched me. There are no coincidences; you are just the person that woman needed on that flight, especially given the reason for her traveling.

  9. And by the way, of all the travel blogs and posts about great deals and the like, this is BY FAR the best post I have read in ages. Keep up the good work.

  10. Very sweet! When we were waiting for a flight last fall, our kids made friends with another (older) little girl who was waiting for a different flight. She had a kitty stuffed animal, and when when they went to board she gave the kitty to my son. It’s been ~9 months and it is still one of his favorites.

  11. Thanks so much for this post. I have been following the FT thread on “kettles” and am downright disgusted with FTers using that term to refer to others that aren’t as experienced flying.

    In any case, last month I gave up my business seat to a mom and her 8 month old daughter. Got to sit in a middle seat in the back, but it was worth it 🙂

  12. Traveling or not, kindness goes a long way. MP, kudos and a big “atta girl” to you!!! Being her mother, your kiddo is a very fortunate girl.

  13. I’ve always been a reader and never a writer before at your blog(great content and writing style by the way!), but I have to say that is awesome.

  14. Thank you for sharing this story and reminding us all that we seldom know what is happening in the lives of others. I agree with Andrew about the recent thread on FT about “kettles.” I hate any term that groups and stereotypes people.

    The world would be a better place if we all remembered to show more kindness and less judgement as we travel, and in all other areas of our lives.

  15. This was a beautiful post…not trying to b against someone but certain travel forums won’t teach you what bloggers like you teach us!!

  16. Being kind to fellow travelers would make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.

    There’s always something new to learn, too. I was reminded of this as I explained how to queue for Southwest to a friend. At first, I was astonished, but he mostly flies internationally or on legacy carriers. Not everyone is travel optimization obsessed, either. I might have finally convinced another friend to get a mileage account… after she’s flown to Australia, Indonesia, and is planning a trip to Argentina.

  17. Wonderful story, remind us all to be more aware of our sorrounding and not to be self absorbed, glad it was you on the plane.

  18. Very sweet of you. I’m sure she’ll pay it forward. There isn’t enough love in the world and it’s nice to see your compassion.
    I understand “why” the airlines no longer take cash “but” I think the airlines would make more money if they still took cash. On the other hand I wish they would just tack on the fees to the ticket and return to some free snacks. Also if they could gt rid of beverage service on short haul flights under an hour, just makes me nervous and I can go an hour without a Coke most of the time.

  19. Thank you for a wonderful post!

    The first day I landed in USA in early 1996 was on a delayed Delta flight from FRA-CVG. I missed my connection to PHX and was handed a $10 voucher to use. I had a fever running and being a vegetarian and did not know what to eat (at the McDonalds) so I settled on a small juice which was about $3. The remaining $7 would go to waste according to the cashier. So I told the cashier to apply that towards the meal of the person behind me. Six years later, a British guy returned the favor at a Starbucks in Terminal 4 in PHX. He had a $25 voucher and only wanted a coffee so he told the cashier to pick up the tab of people behind him till his voucher ran out.

    What goes around definitely comes around! I am sure you will reap the benefit of this favor soon. On a separate note enjoy the queso at Pappasitos!

  20. MP,

    When you said she was heading to her brothers funeral, the first thing that came to my mind was William Watermans’s (?) every so often articles in Hemispheres Magazine. Oldtime UA flyers know what I’m talking about.

    If there are any new flyers, let me know when you’re flying. I’d gladly use my mileage earning credit card to get miles for everyone on the plane (as long as they pay me back)!

  21. Glad some of you enjoyed the post. I have to say I was a bit shocked to see 30 comments on a post like this once I was able to get back online. Normally it is just controversial topics or hot deals that get 30 comments within a few hours. I think that says a lot about the great people who read this blog.

    As the mom got off the plane she thanked me again. It’s amazing how infrequently strangers are nice to each other. Sometimes a $7 snack box can make a difference – even if it is small.

    I have received way more than my fair share of help both in and out of the travel community and I am just lucky enough to have had the opportunity to help this mom. I have no doubt she will pay it forward when she can.

  22. Great story. Don’t know if you are a native Texan, but this kind of thing reminds me why I moved back. You don’t see stuff like that everywhere.

  23. Awesome story. I had one of those VERY BAD TRAVEL DAYS yesterday, and this story perked me up. Thanks for the lift.

  24. Lovely post. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about it. It really is the small little things like this that make travel “memorable”. Whether it comes from strangers, or from company representatives. Whenever someone does the unexpected for you, it makes you all tingly inside.

  25. I had two similar experiences happen to us- Wendy’s manager in PHX T3 overheard us talking about getting water and brought us a couple bottles of water, nuggets, and fries on the house. Later that same day I was trying to change my 1 year old but none of the lavs had changing tables (old NW 757). Nice FA saw me and made a little bed if blankets in the back galley and shut the curtain so I could change her. Suffice to say those two individuals made our day.

  26. Great story – particularly since I just clicked over from the ridiculous AirFareWatchdog Facebook post about United no longer allowing families with children to board early – why is there so much hatred towards small children on planes (and why do I bother to read comments on posts like those)? I know, I know, everybody has a story about the FLIGHT FROM HELL…

    I haven’t had a chance to take care of a fellow passenger in distress, but I do always carry a handful of $5 Starbucks gift cards to distribute to people sitting near us who either seem put out by my (well behaved yet still very small) kids or who shows a little kindness.

    Travel safe!

  27. Thanks for sharing, a great reminder to cut travelling families some slack, and even lend a helping hand (even if they’re not as well behaved as the little one in your story)

  28. awesome! similiar thing happened to me when a Japanese couple with a kid said the wallet was in the luggage that got shoved in an overhead way behind us and the kid was obviously hungry and since I get AMEX credit, i bought em the meal and they had no idea who got it for them. lets continue to pay it forward!

  29. To not have a single debit or credit card, or worse, have one with not enough money in the acct or no more available credit, means this person was perhaps in far worse shape then most of us can imagine.

    Tip of the hat to you.

  30. What a touching story. I think it reminds us that you never know what people on the plane are going through and to have patience and be kind to others. It reminded me of a story I heard at church about someone who was on the subway with a dad who had 2 unruly little kids. People were glaring at him because he wasn’t keeping his kids under control. Someone finally asked him what was going on and he apologized and said he wasn’t thinking clearly because they just left the hospital where his wife had died.

    It’s nice to hear about “little angels” like you who are kind to others.

  31. MP I think you’re on to something here. This was a genuinely moving post which (judging by the large amount of comments posted so quickly) is also very popular. Empathetic writing like this can really set you apart from the hordes of point bloggers that basically re-post the same content. As others have said, this was a breath of fresh air, not only for the narrative way in which it was written but also because it displays a kindness to the uninitiated that is often lacking in this game. Very well done.

  32. My dad beleive it or not doesn’t own any credit card or debit cards. He’s old school cash only. I imagine there are other people still out there just like him. MommyPoints you’ve got a great heart. Thanks for the post!

  33. How is it possible for somebody to not have a credit or debit card with them? Maybe that is also something that differs us from others…

  34. I am teary-eyed. Your simple act of kindness had such a huge impact – not just to the poor bereaved mother but to all who’ve read this post. Please keep up the good work. We can all be better people, and having good models helps!

    I was also struck by the contrast between your refusal to accept reimbursement, and the comment up-thread from the poster who would volunteer to act as purchasing agent for anyone on the plane… as long as they repaid him. I think that missed the point.

  35. Again, thank you all for your comments on this post. It’s amazing how much ability we all have to do very simple things to improve the lives of others. Let’s keep it up!

  36. ok… so I’m late to the posting party. Hey, I’m a senior citizen; we’re slow.
    Really great responses to this blog entry. So, what does this say about this blog.
    First, I think the readers understand that MP is just a darn nice person. I think her husband and her parents would tell ya so. It’s a blog about traveling with the kiddoes, and you can tell the author not only is part of a loving family but also honestly cares about the child/parent/family experience. This is what gives this blog the integrity that the readers relate to.
    The next blog entry finds MP miles away in DC sans kiddoe. Guess what? Still checking out the hotel for the child/family experience. I probably would have completely missed the funeral mom moment; because as long as the kids are not separated from their adults, I’m pretty much oblivious to them.
    I kinda agree with cjpat44. It’s the integrity of this blog that sets it apart from the hordes of points bloggers.
    So, I keep coming back and reading, and participating. And that’s what makes a successful blog.

  37. Thank you for your post, and for reminding your readers that sometimes we have to travel in less than ideal situations because of family circumstances. This reminds me of a year ago, when I traveled across the country with my 2 toddlers in tow and 8 months pregnant to go to a funeral. While I would NEVER attempt this sort of thing normally, it was not a fun experience when the lady behind me asked me what the h*ll I was thinking. Or getting my stuff through security with one kid strapped to my back, another in a stroller, and 8 months pregnant belly out front — while all of the business travelers with nothing but a briefcase just watched and never offered to pick something up. I wish you had been there that day, and I hope that the travel goodwill spreads far!

    • Rachael, I wish I had been there as well. I would have 100% offered to help if I would have seen that!

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