Airplanes are a tricky thing. You’re boxed up with a bunch of other people, most of whom are really interesting but travel protocol makes it hard to get to talking with someone you don’t know.
I’ve gone back and forth for several years now on how intentional to be while flying to get to know strangers. I’ve struck up conversations with brilliant inventors and engineers, but I’ve also endured hours of one-sided rants from racist bigots. Situations like the latter (especially when you’re trapped in the same fuselage with said person) jaded me in the past, and I became less intentional about seeking out people when flying or taking public transit.
Being a student at Stanford has begun to change my perspective on reaching out though. Growing up, I flew standby using my dad’s free flight benefits as a pilot with American Airlines. We lived 2 hours from O’Hare, the busiest airport in North America. It was a safe bet that people I flew with would never think of me again after the flight, and would never visit my tiny hometown of Sheboygan (or Berrien Springs for that matter).
On the other hand, living at Stanford, and flying out of San Francisco airport, it’s a pretty safe bet that people know your school, and the area. There’s enough engineers and tech people on these flights that they’ll understand my work, and that we will probably look each other up for mutual benefit.
I sat next to an Apple employee on my flight today. We had a great chat about Stanford, coffee shops in the area, and other topics related to life in the Bay Area. She was new to the area, and so I recommended the church I attend, and suggested sitting in on classes at Stanford. I also learned how she buys coupons on eBay to use on Southwest flights, and got to hear about a great intentionality ritual she does.
A few years ago, one of her friends was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, and she wanted to find a way to commemorate her friend. She makes it a point to find somebody everyday that made a positive impact on her, and shares a small wooden angel, in order to appreciate them for making the world a better place.
Whereas I might be lukewarm in my intentionality in striking up conversations wiht strangers, she has a practice that seeks out the good in the world. I might be turned off by the thought of another 2 hour xenophobic tirade on an international flight, while she is looking to recognize the good in this world. She’s right. There’s a lot to be grateful for, and it’s out there if we look for it intentionally, and affirm it where it happens.
This encounter was really encouraging to me, and as a result, I want to be more intentional about learning about the people I share a space with. I’ve personally never heard of somebody who made a million dollar business partnership on an airplane, but I’ve never heard of someone who went broke trying. But money isn’t everything, and airplanes seem to be a global melting pot and intersection point for all cultures, religions, and walks of life. As a member (and missionary) of a global community, I want to become more intentional about connecting with others, whether at home or abroad.