I was boarding my flight from London to Davos, Switzerland this week and as I settled in I noticed my seatmate in business class: a young girl, about 10 years old, traveling alone.
I love kids, but anyone who has done enough traveling and found themselves next to a child for a long flight knows what I was thinking at that moment. I got myself mentally prepared for what I was sure was going to feel like an extra-long flight.
But this girl surprised me in the most delightful way. She was polite and charming with the flight attendants, and she had an air of calm and confidence beyond her years. She read her book for awhile, and when I started to chat with her, she gave me the warmest, most endearing smile. It turns out she was not traveling alone after allâshe and her mother were returning home from visiting family in London, and because of weather delays and logistical changes they ended up sitting apart on this flight. Her mom was farther back on the plane, and the young girl kept looking back there to make sure she was okay.
At one point during the flight, I dropped my pen and it rolled under the seat. Before I could say anything this young girl asked me to hold her drink and she scampered down onto the floor beneath us and retrieved it for me, handing it to me with a triumphant smile. We were best friends for the rest of the flight.
I had a couple of revelations about this episode. First of all, it was a reminder to me about how we all tend to prejudge people and situations. Whether it is you assuming the patient canât afford it and will never accept the right care, or in this case, me assuming that a child on a plane was going to be a disturbance, we all let our preconceptions get out ahead of us sometimes.
The other thing I realized is that I want to live my life the way this girl does. Despite the disruptions in her familyâs travel plans that she had to go through, she loved every moment of being there. She was engaged with those around her, but respectful too. She was calm and poised but she also knew how to have fun. Most of all, she seemed to instinctively understand the power of a smile to make life feel good.
Those of us who fly frequently can sometimes get weary of the process. We can take for granted the comforts we have and lose the sense of wonder and adventure that should go along with meeting new people and going to new places. I have been traveling a lot lately and I admit I often lose myself in my thoughts and my work and donât really notice my surroundings. I have my new young friend to thank for reminding me how much fun this really is.