My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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a random act of kindness

Due to poor planning, G and I were on different flights back to Boston from SXSW. I was already booked on the early flight and had already been assigned my upgrade. So when we reached DFW, we raced across the airport to get him on standby. Success, but of course, he got stuck in a middle seat in coach. Standing around waiting to board, I’m feeling all mega-guilty about being in first while he’s in coach so I’m more affectionate than normal. The plane boards and I proceed to 1A. The guy sitting in 1B looks at me and says, “Aren’t you traveling with someone?” After I nod, he says, “Why don’t I switch with him?” I explain that he’s in coach and he shakes his head to say “no problem” but I proceed to protest and point out that he’s in a center seat in coach and he protests further by saying that he flies all the time and no problem, no problem, I should sit with my partner… By this time, first is wide-eyed. I mean, what business traveler in their right mind wants to give up a bulkhead first seat to sit in a center in coach? But before I manage to protest louder, he grabs his stuff and heads back to coach. The woman behind me and I laugh uncomfortably with big eyes, verbalizing what we were thinking: “did that really happen?”

Sure enough, he proceeds to sit in coach. The flight attendants are astonished and find him a seat in the back with more room and continue on to send back ice cream and food and whatnot. At one point, I asked one of the flight attendants how he was doing and she smiled and said that he was an extremely kind man and that the flight attendants were all loving him. That she had never in her day seen someone give up a first class seat as a random act of kindness. We were all quite floored.

The truth is that I was completely flabbergasted and without a script in which to operate. I never caught the man’s name. I couldn’t find him after we landed. I never really got to properly say thank you. But, Mr. Nice Businessman, if you’re out there, I want you to know that your random act of kindness made me a giddy happy kid; flying home next to G was really wonderful. And you made a lot of people smile. So THANK YOU!

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25 comments to a random act of kindness

  • Lovely, it’s little acts of kindness like this that spread so much joy. I’m happier already and it’s nothing to do with me!

    What a lovely man.

  • This is the sort of thing that really gives one hope for humanity – and I’m sure that man thought nothing more of it. Which makes it all the more uncommon.

  • Chris

    Sounds like a guy that missed his own “significant other” and wished that one day they got to fly together on business.

    Really nice story – you’ve made me smile 🙂

  • That’s fantastic! Thanks for sharing. It’s a great reminder for me to try to look for opportunities to be that kind stranger for someone else.

  • I once gave up my upgrade at the gate when they couldn’t clear Natalie for a companion upgrade (separate reservation). The FA looked at me cock-eyed “so… you want to … downgrade?”

  • rh0dium

    Note to self: Be more like this guy.

  • Kamal Jain

    danah, I have been in similar situation many times, when I travel with a companion. Even after requesting not to upgrade me, the airline system upgrades me automatically. I figure out this actually works out nicely. Whoever is sitting with the companion I want to travel with, that person is usually more than happy to move into the first class. If I am in another coach seat, in fact moving somebody to another coach seat does not always work out that smoothly, e.g., the person may not going to leave an aisle seat or exit seat.

    I wonder if that’s a solution available to you.

  • lovely — lucky you, and i imagine that guy must be pretty happy too, walking around being so nice.

  • Tyler

    Huh. I tried to move to coach once to let a couple sit together (to a center seat at that). After I had settled in, the flight attendents came and found me and said that seat changes weren’t aloud. They made me take the first class seat back. I think this was on (now defunct) TWA.

  • For those who asked (separate from this thread), this whole thing happened so fast that there was no thinking involved. G and I talked about whether I should give up my first seat to move back before we even got on the flight and decided against it for a variety of reasons, not the least of which has to do with my neck issues and the ongoing health problems I’m facing by flying too much (but have stopped publicly complaining about). So we had decided that being split made more sense for us. So when the nice guy jumped up and went back to coach, I was far too shocked to think that I should swap with him. I was more set on trying to tell him that it was unnecessary.

    And yes, I know that first is a privilege. On one hand, I’m fortunate enough to have enough “status” to get upgraded. On the other, it’s proof that I fly too much. Unfortunately, I’ve reached the point in my life where I’d prefer to be flying less but given how frequently I am flying and the cost that it’s having on my body, I’ve accepted those privileges as a reasonable trade-off for perpetually flying over 100K a year.

  • Everyone allows themselves some luxuries and some “deal with it” consequences, all for personal reasons.

    One friend of mine is so dedicated to stilettos, friends almost had to repossess her collection from her when she recently had back surgery. Her chosen luxury is shoes, and it’s converse-consequence, is her back. Her choice, her values. We all do it- *everybody*.

    I’ll spend money I can barely afford, for ergonomic stuff… since my body is so willowy and I’m constantly having neuro-muscular issues, despite doing my best with low-impact exercise, to retain healthy & even muscle. A fancy office chair, a lightweight auto-darkening welding helmet, orthotics for my shoes; 3 things that cost a lot, but spare a ton of strain on my neck, upper-shoulders, lower-back, and knee joints. My luxury of choice = things that make my body feel healthy. It’s consequence = money spent I perhaps could spend elsewhere.

    I think your choice Danah, makes perfect sense- and it also seems to parallel my primary luxury/consequence priority, tho your health issues I’m sure are greater than mine. I can’t imagine all that flying… tho welding and sitting at a desk a lot, both do take their toll.

    As an aside, completely awesome/random story. Made me smile. Thanks for sharing- especially in these tough times.

  • Vicky

    Call me naive, but I tend to think that these things work out over time. Maybe he gets as much out of the sharing as you do. Maybe people in his life are really generous and thoughtful with him. In any event, it’s great that you got to sit together, and better still that you have a cheery story for the blog because of it. Maybe people who read it will be inspired to their own acts of kindness.

  • I have to agree with others here: it’s rare acts like that one which make me hold on to some faith in humanity. Thanks for sharing the story.

    P.S. I still hate flying and avoid it like a bad plague, but good to see that some generous souls out there still exist. Best, and keep on blogging.

  • Sabina

    That is really generous and I am surprised how some people can go to any extent just to see smile on the faces of the people :).

  • This makes my day. It’s like NYC after 9-11. This incredible behavior has to be contrasted with all the fulminating over AIG. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • stephanie

    aww, that made me really happy. and yes, rh0dium, a good note to self indeed. a well-earned point goes to humans in this round.

  • Steve

    One of the great underreported stories of our time is the vast reservoir of kind-hearted decent people. Mostly they exist completely under the radar – unless one actually encounters them.

    =Steve

  • Cathy

    I loved the story — brought joy to my morning, for sure! And I enjoyed reading others’ comments. Regarding Steve’s comment, check out this website which I recently came across: http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/

  • Thisis the sort of thing that really gives one hope for humanity – and i’m sure that man thought nothing more of it. Which makes it all the more uncommon. http://www.magicsacekimi.com

  • Pat

    This reminds me of the Liberty Mutual commercials on TV. One act of kindness is seen by others and then they go do something kind for someone. That act of kindness is seen and passed on and so on. It is a pretty cool commercial. This seems like it could be on there too. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for sharing. This reminds me of the old saying, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”

  • A very nice little story. And in this part of the world it is not unusual. We call it “manners maketh man” – Once you get into the swing of it you life improves dramitically.

    Remember the age old maxin? “What you have given away you still have.”

  • that act of kindness is seen and passed on and so on. It is a pretty cool commercial. This seems like it could be on there too

  • Jim Balter

    danah, you may be interested in http://www.heroicstories.com (and may want to submit this one).

  • A very nice little story. And in this part of the world it is not unusual. We call it “manners maketh man” – Once you get into the swing of it you life improves dramitically.

    Remember the age old maxin? “What you have given away you still have.”