The 5 Greatest Lessons I learned in a Flight from Hell

If there’s one universal truth, it is that traveling is a hassle. From the stress provoked by attempting to catch a flight in time to the anxiety caused by those seconds you spend praying that your bag isn’t over the weight limit, traveling can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Not only are the requirements annoying—yet greatly important—but airplanes tend to be uncomfortable with their tiny seats and limited leg space. Moreover, if you’re like me and have the unfortunate condition of not being able to sleep inside an aircraft, flying can certainly be a pain.

On one particular flight from San Francisco to South Bend—talk about spending a long time in a plane—the universe conspired in its full force to deliver some of the worst outcomes imaginable: not only was the flight delayed, but the aircraft had a motor failure. As such, I was forced to spend five hours stranded in Denver’s airport and then lost my connecting flight. Once I was able to return to the cheery Midwest and embark on a plane that would finally take me to good ol’ South Bend, I was beyond tired from that debacle. 

I was looking forward to returning, but my patience had been exhausted at that point. Thus, I only wanted a silent and simple flight home. However, the stars were not aligned in my favor, as I was placed next to a person with very clear—and completely opposite to my own—political beliefs.

Oh boy.

I saw myself entering a heated debate with my opposite, so I decided against muttering a single word. However, five minutes into the flight, the man pulled out a sailing book that my dad had read, and I couldn’t keep myself from saying “that’s my dad’s favorite book.” What ensued was probably one of the richest and most interesting conversations I have ever had. As two strangers with polar-opposite ideas came together, I learned five important lessons that I will now share with you:

  1. 1. Don’t judge a book by its cover

    This is certainly a cliche as old as time, and I’m beating myself over the corniness of this phrase. But the truth is that if I had judged Bill by his outside looks, I would have never discovered the great person that he is or the interests that we both share.

  2. 2. Even if a person looks like your complete opposite, you probably share some qualities or interests

    At first glance, I would have never imagined that Bill and I both share a passion for Broadway musicals, or that we are both big family people. I never thought that this man could cry because of Jack’s death in Titanic, or that his favorite author was F. Scott Fitzgerald...just like me. 

  3. 3. Try to understand where a person comes from

    It is easy to judge others without understanding the circumstances that have lead to their decisions. Yet, we have to understand that our background and context play such an important role in shaping our perspectives.

  4. 4. Learn to listen

    The greatest way of respecting someone’s dignity is through the art of listening. We learn more when we let others share their ideas, so don’t immediately interrupt them if they hold a belief contrary to yours. Take it in, analyze it and then try to form your decision.

  5. 5. Get rid of the "buts"

    If you keep trying to say “Yes, but…” in the middle of a conversation, you are not truly listening; you are merely allowing your self-assurance to jump in and negate everything that the person is saying. So, stop.

The world is polarized between political, social and religious beliefs, and we are only contributing to this problem if we are unable to take a step back and tolerate others’ opinions. The only way we can truly solve this issue is by opening ourselves to bridging the gap and trying to accept each other despite our differences.