the god of small things

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Year 1999. “If you don’t have a righteous objective, eventually you will suffer. When you do the right thing for the right reason, the right result awaits.” Chin-Ning Chu

I was professionally appointed in Thailand. The airplane had just taken off and heading to the right altitude. It was midsummer, sunny, rather warm, and the elder lady sitting besides me, on my left side, with a little sweat in her face keeps watching back with an effort I only now understand. May I help you madame? I asked. She looked at me with a candid smile and said nothing.

We reached the required altitude for the Airbus 340 to pursue its cruise speed when a signal indicated we could unfasten our seatbelt followed by a PA from the captain to tell the passengers about the long journey from CPH to BKK, the weather forecast, the entertainment aboard and the meals. When he finished the PA the crew members got off their seats and started the usual hustle and bustle inside an airplane at this time of the flight with their meal preparations and attending passengers for any kind of requests.

The crew manager seemed quite busy back and forth talking to my elder lady neighbour. I already had my face buried in my book The God of Small Things and as they speak Swedish it did not distract me from reading until my conscience told me something was not right. At the third or fourth time the crew manager approached and bent herself to talk with my neighbour I looked at the elder lady and the crew manager’s faces and saw pain and sorry while both looking back. I interfered and asked if I may help.

Well… this gentle lady is travelling together with her husband and they would love to sit together but unfortunately there were no seats available when they checked-in. We have asked her husband’s neighbour passenger but he refused to change because he wants aisle seat and this gentle lady is sitting in the middle. The other options are families and we don’t want them to travel separated either…. said the crew manager

– Sorry, I do not understand Swedish so I did not understood what all this was about. But why didn’t you ask me then?

That’s because you hold a Eurobonus Gold membership and SAS policy is not to disturb our loyal members in these circumstances.

That’s nice but weird at the same time… I mentioned. However as a matter of fact I volunteer myself to interchange my seat, so please bring her husband here and I will move back.

But it is a middle seat, she insisted.

Never mind. If I would be at their situation I would be glad to find a gentle heart to make my long distance journey a happy one, so I move. But that didn’t happen before the elder lady had strongly grabbed my two hands, shaking them and genuinly thanking me with her wet eyes while looking frenetically back to reach her husband eyes.

Already sitting in my new place and again buried in my reading, the smell of the microwave heated food forced my eyes to twist in the aisle direction. I put my book in the pocket seat in front of me, lowered the table and wait for my turn. I saw a tray crossing in front of my eyes to my left neighbour’s table and then another tray be put on my right side neighbour’s table, the one who refused to move. I looked to the air hostess serving the meals to see see my tray coming. But didn’t came. She looked at me and with a soft smile made a waiting sign and proceed to serve the next rows.

For you Mr. Barros. Please accept our First Class welcome drink. Said the Crew Manager.

It was a 1/4 bottle of champagne with the respective champagne glass and a plate with foie gras topped with sturgeon eggs or better known caviar. In wonder I could not guess what was going to happen next. As I sip a bit of champagne I noticed my right seat’s neighbour was mumbling something while eating his chicken meal. His face was reddish and perhaps was due to the wine, a typical usual reaction in nordic people, specially the ones who are not used to drink wine, or maybe because the discomfort he was feeling. After all, even if he has the right not to change the seat, it will always be seen and interpreted as an impolite and rude behaviour. Right and mannerism are two distinct ways of standing in society. He knew it.

Please Mr. Barros, let me prepare the table for you. I noticed that the crew manager was speaking louder than it was needed. But I also realised that she was doing it with intention. I believe she was messaging my neighbour and anyone around; with us, kindness is treated with fairness. Be polite if an opportunity comes to you.

After she set my table with a tablecloth she looked to the small trolley, decorated with midsummer flowers, and asked; meat or fish? Fish, please.  And she served me a Business Class meal with all ceremonials and details it comes along. She asked me if I would go on with more champagne or if I would love to switch to wine. I choose to switch to wine, white wine.

– We would love to have you moved to Business Class instead but there are no seats available. So we believe we managed to transform your economic seat in a business service. Wish you a nice meal Mr. Barros! Should you require something else, please just press the call pushbutton.  

It was not necessary but I thank you for your gesture! I reciprocated.

Winking her left eye, she left with a smile.

Then came the dessert, the coffee and the digestive drink which I, of course, choose Porto. All served with the same ceremonial and politeness as in Business Class.

The flight was a 10 hours journey. I slept like a baby after such treatment but my gesture’s compensation was not finished. Another PA from the captain came in. This time to announce that the journey was about to end in 30 minutes and then asked the cabine crew to make all necessary preparations for landing. I had my eyes buried in my book again when the voice I came to know whispered while handling a bag to me:

This is for you Mr. Barros. In the name of SAS company I would like to thank you for your polite self-decision to interchange your seat and make a journey of two elder persons a pleasant one. At SAS we value these gestures. They asked me to thank you once more. You will hear from us again. Have a pleasant stay.

Inside the two duty free bags there were plenty of chocolates, all sorts of candies, two bottles of Champagne, one bottle of wine, a few SAS souvenirs, etc, etc.

Three months later I travelled to Sweden for a meeting followed by a trip to Lisbon for some holidays with my family and back to Bangkok again. The Öresund Bridge was under construction and the Catamaran connection to Copenhagen Airport was the only direct option for common people. I checked-in at Malmo Maritime Customs building from where we could see the famous world’s biggest crane, the Kockum crane. I handled my passport, my ticket and put my suitcase in the weighting belt.

– So, Mr. Barros, here is your round trip ticket fully upgraded to Business Class, a complimentary of Scandinavian Airlines System or better know by SAS. I wish you a pleasant and safe journey.

With my eyes twisted in surprise I asked; may I know why you upgraded the whole round trip ticket to Business Class? Is there any special reason, is this just normal, or…? I asked.

With a smile that denounced she could read some coded information on her computer screen, she said: What you did I really don’t know, but as far as I can see, you certainly did something good, some good gesture in one of our flights, perhaps, and SAS wants to rewarded you for that… Another eye winking followed by a goodbye smile.

I ended up being upgraded three times in row to Business Class.

Later, someday, during a happy hour time at Four Wings hotel in Bangkok I was telling this story to a few friends working with me in the same project and one of them, Swedish, said;

– I never got any benefit or any single extra  from SAS in my travelling history. I don’t know why… 

Would you be ready to interchange your seat in such a circumstances. I am not talking about pleasing everybody hunting for a better seat, that SAS does not care, but ready to be polite and please someone that is rather vulnerable and deserve respect at such age? 

Of course not! If I choose that seat is because I want that seat!

Then you have the answer to your question as why you never get anything back. Karma… have you heard about…

Selfish people call the others lucky ones… they will never understand the universe is watching. And this has nothing to do with religion but philosophy of life. It is simply common sense.