The man seated ahead of us on our Newark to Paris flight was large and loud.
I missed the beginning of the “discussion” because we were getting situated in our seats, stowing my pack in the overhead compartment, turning my phone to airplane mode, finding both ends of the seatbelt.
My ears tuned in at — “NO! You listen to me!”
His angry voice rose above the murmur of the other passengers who were doing the same things I had been doing.
The flight attendant, a neatly-groomed small-framed man who spoke excellent English with only a trace of a French accent, remained calm. “Sir,” he said, “I’m trying to explain.”
The passenger interrupted. “I’m paying your salary,” he bellowed. “You need to do what I say.”
“Please listen to me,” the flight attendant said. I was amazed at how unrattled he was by the confrontation. “I cannot give you two pillows right now –”
“I need to be comfortable on this flight!” the man interrupted with another bellow.
“Sir,” the flight attendant began again, “if you will listen, I will explain.”
I looked out the window at the raining pouring down outside, wishing I could be almost anywhere but there, where the groundwork was being laid for the next ugly airline confrontation. Getting my phone out to record it didn’t cross my mind.
“As long as your explanation includes a second pillow — ” the man said, interrupting again.
“Yes, sir, I have to wait until everyone is seated. We have only enough pillowcases for the passengers on board,” the flight attendant said.
“Well, what’re THOSE?!” the man asked, pointing to a small pile of pillows in an overhead compartment across the aisle.
“Those are pillows without pillowcases,” the attendant said.
“Gimme one of ’em,” grumpy man demanded.
The flight attendant complied, repeating the fact that it did not have a pillowcase on it.
“See?” the man said snidely. “We found a peaceful solution.” His sarcasm cut rudely through his words.
As he plumped his pillows and settled into his seat, the flight attendant moved down the aisle to assist other passengers.
I sighed. It’s no wonder Americans have a bad name.
The plane was quickly prepared for take-off and didn’t linger long on the runway.
Once in the air, the man ahead of me signaled the flight attendant as he walked past. He beckoned him to lean close, so he wouldn’t have to yell, but I could still hear.
“I’m sorry for the way I treated you,” he said. “I was out of line.”
“No problem, sir,” said the flight attendant.
Above the clouds, the rain was gone. The sun truly looked like a silver lining.
And the angry words were washed away in one man’s humility.
I more than survived the experience. In an unexpected twist, I was blessed by it.