I was one of the last ones to board a Southwest flight from Dallas to San Francisco. The plane was packed. Nearing the rear of the aircraft looking for a seat, I saw a woman in her 50’s sort of sprawled out over seats A, B & C in row 26. She was sitting in the window seat but had her purse and lunch spread out on the middle and isle seats like she was having a picnic before take-off.
“Are these seats taken?” I politely asked. “Yes they are—and it’s not a full fight,” she replied. Looking around there was maybe 2 middle seats left between some men that looked like offensive linemen. The cabin doors were closing so I said to the woman, “I’d like to sit in one of these seats.” At that she became very animated and said, “The airplane is not full! And I have a medical condition and need these seats to lie down!”
Without a response I signaled to the stewardess. I expressed to her that I wished to sit in one of these vacant seats. And when the stewardess told the woman she needed to allow me to sit down, she became irritated and said, “The flight is not full! He can sit somewhere else!” The stewardess gently but firmly explained why she needed to chose a seat and allow me to take a seat.
With everyone around us watched this scene go down, the woman said to me, “All right! If that’s the way it has to be! But I’m going to make your life miserable! I’m going to get up 100 times during the flight to go to the bathroom!“
As I sat down she continued, “There now—I hope you’re happy. But you are going to regret sitting next to me!” I thought she may be right, but I did not say a word to her as I knew it would be useless. Before the plane took off she made a phone call and expressed to the person she was talking to how I had just ruined her flight and what a terrible person I was.
Surprisingly, she soon curled up in a ball next to the window and closed her eyes. Not until about half-way through the flight did she say anything to me, but when she did I was again surprised. “Ah, excuse me. I need to go to the bathroom. And by the way, I’m sorry for the way I acted earlier.”
“No worries,” I said. And when she returned she apologized again for her behavior. Once we landed another surprise occurred. As we reached for our overhead bags she said to me, “I apologize for being such a bitch.”
“I accept your apology. You must be having a tough day.”
“Not just a tough day but one hell-of-a week.” And then she began to sob while pouring out a sad story about the problems in her family. After expressing my best wishes, we de-boarded the plane and went our separate ways. As we did, I realized my perception of her had changed. From thinking not very nice thoughts about her, I was now feeling sorry for her. I was glad I did not express my thoughts when we first met, but held my tongue. This helped in her being able to express an apology, and for me to receive it—and all of this happening in front of many witnesses on board.
I do not believe all of this happened by accident. I believe that sometimes God puts difficult people in our lives to test our character—and to express compassion when that is extremely hard to do.