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John Rex: Stranger’s kindness made big impression

When I arrived at the Buffalo airport last Jan. 23, I was pleased that it was a cold, clear, sunny day, and that by midnight I would be experiencing summer in Lima, Peru. I took off my winter coat at the airport and packed it in the suitcase, which I then checked through to Lima.

I had dutifully arrived two hours early, so I had plenty of time to read the paper and people-watch. After a while, the posted departure time of my flight began to move from 1 p.m., to 2 and then to 3. We waiting travelers began feeling stressed. Our plane was coming from Atlanta, and had been delayed by a squall and deicing. I needed to make a 5:45 connection in Atlanta, which seemed less and less likely. When the plane came in and we finally boarded around 4, the flight attendant assured me that I would make my flight to Lima.

Once I was safely belted in my seat, the plane moved out – and stopped! We sat, anxiously, for half an hour as the plane was once again deiced.

Arriving in Atlanta, I hoisted my pack on my back and raced to the connecting train to the terminal of my international flight. There, I rushed up the escalator and ran down a very long corridor, hitching a ride on an airport cart and finally reached the gate. I was not even close. My flight had left 10 minutes earlier, and another flight was already posted.

This was not just bad, it was getting worse. There I was, a 75-year-old man with hearing issues and an ancient flip phone, stranded, with no reservations and no checked luggage. I had to lug my pack to join a large crowd of delayed travelers in a line that kept me standing for over two hours. Although I had not eaten all day, I was too upset to even think of food. No, I could not fly out until the next evening; yes, I had to spend the night in Atlanta.

Perhaps only another person with hearing aids can appreciate the difficulty of making a phone call in the midst of a noisy airport. I notified my travel company of my delay. I then was directed to a wall of courtesy phones where I called for a room reservation and was told to take the free shuttle to the hotel.

I hadn’t a clue where to meet such a shuttle. I stood for a moment, watching the crowds surge by, all appearing to know where they were going. Then I noticed a young woman standing by the wall. (Understand that when you are 75, just about everyone looks young, and she was perhaps in her 30s.) I approached hesitantly and asked the way to the shuttle. She started to give directions, but when she noticed my distress, she said she was going there and asked me to follow her.

When we stepped outside, it was very cold, and, of course, I had no coat. When we reached the waiting platform, my helpful guide noticed my shivering and offered to lend me her jacket, which she said she didn’t need.

Under normal circumstances, I might have refused, but nothing was normal that day, and I gratefully accepted. We both stood in the cold for perhaps 10 minutes until my bus came, and I returned her jacket before pulling myself aboard.

Looking back out the bus window at this gracious person, I realized that I didn’t even know her name. But when I recall that terrible day, above all, I remember the goodness of a stranger.