A Man Gave Up His First-Class Seat

We live in a world that often considers itself first before they think of anyone else. It isn’t always easy to watch and if we aren’t of that mindset, it can be frustrating.

That is especially true of those who serve in the military. Most of us realize that they have given up something to serve in that capacity but not everyone is able to acknowledge it.

That is where this story comes in. While we can’t verify that it is true we can say that there is a lesson we can all take away from it.

It’s not enough to shake the hand of a man or woman in military uniform and say thanks. It’s not enough to put a magnetic sign on the side of our vehicles that says “Support Our Troops” and feel like we’re doing our part. Our troops have been at war for years while we’ve been relaxing at the mall!

That’s why I made a commitment many years ago that whenever I saw a soldier, airman, sailor, or marine in an airport I would buy him or her a meal. What a drag! No one told me they don’t hang out by themselves. They are always in groups of three, five, ten. I’m going broke!

And since kindness isn’t a ‘sometimes’ thing, it’s an all-the-time thing, and because “service before self” is a governing core value that we don’t turn off and on, I also needed to take this same commitment on board my flights.

I usually fly economy class, but my work happened to pay for first-class for this one particular flight. I got a fantastic seat by the window, and I couldn’t be happier. Drinks had been served, and the other passengers started to board the plane.

As the slower moving people caused congestion in the aisle, a soldier to his combat uniform was stopped at my row. So, I chatted him up.

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, Sir.”

“Are you coming or going?”

“I’m coming back from the desert.”

They are always so polite. “I bet you’re excited to see your family,” I said.

“I’ve been in Iraq for fifteen months and I hope they are excited to see me.”

I said, “Guaranteed, bro! Welcome home,” and offered him my seat.

He replied, “No, thank you, Sir, that’s not necessary.”

I said, “What do you mean it’s not necessary? It’s the least I can do. C’mon, swap seats with me.”

I stood up and he reluctantly slid in to sit down. The flight attendant acknowledged how cool she thought this was, to which I responded that it was the least any of us could do and to take good care of him and give him anything he wants.

As I moved to the back of the plane to find his seat, wouldn’t you know it? He had a middle seat between two chubby guys. I’m six foot five and weigh 235 pounds! Both guys were looking at me like, “Oh no! I was wincing back “Oh, yes.”

As I sat down and squished my body in between them, it was easy to feel sorry for myself. It was a four hour flight and this was not what I had in mind. I felt like I had sat on a stick, and my immediate discomfort flipped my positive commitment to service before self, to a self-centered negative focus on what was wrong.

I silently complained, “I’m so old that I bend over to pull up my socks and think, what else can I accomplish while I’m way down here?” I go to bed healthy and wake up injured, and all I did was lie there! My hip hurts, my foot is asleep, I limp for five minutes until I stop shaking and now I’m stuck between Bubba and Blubba!

Then I remembered when I myself was in Baghdad. It was 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and on top of this, our soldiers, airmen, sailor, and marines are wearing eight-five pounds of combat gear while living and working in harm’s way with no opportunities to take a day off. They are running toward the sound of guns, willing to sacrifice their lives if necessary, so we can live with the peace of mind that we are safe and free. How dare I complain about a sore back or go home from work because the air conditioner broke!

Suddenly, I stopped treating my fellow seatmates as objects and started talking to them as human beings. Everything was going to be fine.

Then it happened.

The gentleman who was previously sitting next to me in first class came wandering to the back of the plane. When we made eye contact, I acknowledged him with a, “What’s up?”

He replied, “You know, you made us all stop and think. When the next soldier got on the plane, I gave him my seat.”

I smiled and replied, “Let me help you find yours.”

Wouldn’t you know it? He was seated in the row right in front of me in the center seat between two chubbier guys! He was so stuck he couldn’t even turn around to keep complaining!

Before we took off, four of us who had been sitting in first class were now sitting in the back of the plane to pay tribute to four soldiers who we should always honor, assist, and support.

But the story doesn’t stop here. I checked into my hotel, had a great night’s sleep, awoke refreshed and alert, put on my coat and tie, and entered the huge ballroom as the keynote speaker. Wouldn’t you know it? The CEO who introduced me was the gentleman who was sitting next to me in first class. He read my standard introduction and then acknowledged to his 5,000 employees that I had inspired him and his colleagues to give up their seats to say thank you to our soldiers.

So what is the moral to this story? People are watching. We are the message. It is not enough to just practice what we preach, we must preach everywhere we practice!