Erik MH:

blog entry

In which I opine on politeness

The long leg of my flight from Bur­l­ing­ton to Lima (almost 8 hours from JFK to LIM) was decidedly red-eye, leav­ing just before mid­night. I had elec­ted to pay a mod­est upgrade charge for a little more elbow and leg room to make the night just a little less awful. This was one of those co-branded flights: it was nom­in­ally Delta, but it was really a Latam flight. Some­how, though I had a board­ing pass that showed the upgrade (in row 12) that I had prin­ted out last August when I made the reser­va­tion, Delta then repor­ted last week that I was in row 35.…

I couldn’t fix the prob­lem on-line, or at BTV, or at JFK dur­ing the 11-hour lay­over. Finally, though, as the attend­ants opened their sta­tion at the board­ing gate, I made one last attempt. I knew she didn’t have to help me. I knew she didn’t need to care about my “prob­lem.” So I apo­lo­gized for tak­ing her time and explained the situ­ation as suc­cinctly and politely as I could, even as I could see her shak­ing her head and look­ing at the rather full seat plan and at the crowds wait­ing at the gate.

But then to my utter sur­prise she said, “You’ve been so nice and patient with this — I see we have an empty win­dow seat in row 11, the very front row in the main cab­in, with even a little more legroom. Would you like that?”

Well, I didn’t say no. And as I thanked her, she said, “So many people approach this type of situ­ation with anger or enti­tle­ment — it makes you want to not help them. But polite­ness makes us remem­ber that we’re all in this togeth­er, and makes us want to try to find solutions.”

Wow. So Mom was right. You do catch more flies with honey than you do with vin­eg­ar. This nev­er made much sense to me as a kid (I mean, who wants flies in the first place?), but really, even if polite­ness doesn’t nat­ur­ally come to us, shouldn’t we try to be polite just out of self-interest? I think the world might be bet­ter for it.…