Human Kindness at United Airlines

From December 2–19 I had the opportunity to teach Genesis–Esther to people training for ministry in the Far East. While I was there I bought a wooden sword as a toy for my sons. It was longer than any of the suitcases the three of us had, so I was a little anxious about how to get it home. Since I paid less that $10 for the toy sword in the market, I certainly didn’t want to pay the $70 fee to check it through as a second piece of baggage. Nor did I want to lug my bag through the airports and customs lines so that I could check the sword as my only bag.

There was no problem when I flew out of our location to our last stop before heading home, but the difficulties began when it came time to fly home from there. As we checked our luggage at the United Airlines counter, the very nice lady told me that the sword, which I had wrapped in cardboard, was too long to carry onto the plane. I explained to her that it was a gift for my sons. I showed her a picture of the sweet boys I hadn’t seen for 17 days. I told her they would be so happy to get this sword for Christmas. I told her I had paid less than $10 for the sword and couldn’t justify paying $70 more to check it through as a piece of luggage.

She said she would check with her supervisor, took two steps from the counter, and I don’t know if she didn’t see her supervisor or what, but she came back and gave me a couple tags that she thought would allow me to carry the sword onto the plane.

We proceeded to security. Once I got to the front of the line, a couple officials took me aside to examine the sword. They indicated that the sword was too much like a weapon for them to allow me to carry it onto the plane. I got my pictures out again and started talking about my sons, talking about how happy they would be, talking about how the airline would only let me check it if I paid $70. They called an older official over, who basically said I could either pay to have it checked through or they would dispose of it for me. I asked if he had grandchildren. He wasn’t budging.

So I told them that I guessed they would have to dispose of it for me, and I trudged toward the line to go on through customs, without the sword for my sons.

As I stood there in line with Ryan and Kevin, thinking about my sons, about how much they would love that sword, and about what my options were, I thought of what I tell my sons all the time: Never give up. It’s always too early to quit.

So I mentioned to Ryan and Kevin that I was thinking about making one more try. Ryan said: “You have time, and you don’t have anything to lose.” So I left the line and found one of those security officials. He fished my cardboard out of the trash, went and got the sword, and took me to the door out of that secure area. I made my way back to the United Airlines counter.

When I got there, I bypassed the line and made my way to the first class counter, where there was a lady with no customers. I explained the situation, and she flatly told me that the only way was for me to pay to check the sword through. I tried to show her how light it was, tried to explain that it was a toy, and she barked that everyone has to pay. Then she asked me who I had dealt with before. I told her, and she looked down the row, shouted at the nice lady that had helped me, and told me to go talk to her.

That nice lady considered my plight anew with patience and sympathy. She mentioned that there was a post office in the airport where perhaps I could ship it home. At that point I didn’t have time to go through all that. So she pointed out her supervisor, who was out by the long line of people, and said that I should ask her. I went straight to the supervisor, and I don’t think I got more than two sentences of my explanation out of my mouth before she had me back at the counter processing this sword, checking it through as a second piece of luggage at no extra fee.

So I give thanks and praise to God for the human kindness of these two sweet ladies at United Airlines. If anyone reading this wants to promote them or give them a raise, I’ll gladly pass on their first names and the city of that airport, which is really all I know of them.

Thanks to their kindness, my boys fought over who would get to hold the sword the whole drive home from the airport, and now we have to be vigilant about keeping them from whacking each other with it!

Joking aside, thank God for these two ladies. They showed me human kindness in the midst of a welter of people and a swarm of policies, and thanks to them my sons have the gift I got for them in a faraway land.

So thank you, ladies, my boys love their sword.

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  1. Last year I lugged a heavy steel sword that I got for my nephew in Toledo, Spain all arond Switzerland, Bavaria and Austria and then brought it back in my suitcase and no one ever even gave it a look. It’s the arbitrariness that’s so weird, you just never know how they’re going to treat you. Well PTL he gave you favor with the people at United!

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