In a time where everyone has something terrible to say about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), I am usually the “black sheep” who will stand up and defend this government organization. Perhaps I am slightly biased because one of my best friends works for them or perhaps I am simply naive in thinking TSA's presence at airports DOES act as a deterrent to further acts of terrorism on planes. Regardless, although this is not a TSA-bashing article (as so many are), I will say TSA is an organization comprised of imperfect human beings and because of this, someone at TSA messed up earlier this year while I was traveling. The end result of this error was that my personal property was damaged.
When I first discovered my property was damaged, I knew immediately the culprit could be none other than someone from TSA. In the following step-by-step guide, I will lay out the process for making a claim against TSA. In my case, justice was served. After a lot of patience, I was granted the full amount needed to replace the damaged item and I am completely satisfied with the end result.
No one is perfect and I’m a forgiving person. At the same time, when the government screws up, it’s nice to know they will at least reimburse you for the damages.
Step 1: Determine the Appropriate Action
Your stuff was damaged during transit within the United States and you are rightfully upset about it, but who should you blame?
A few questions you should ask yourself are:
- Did the damage to your property happen within your sight?
- Is it possible the damage occurred during the packing process or while you were traveling to or from the airport?
- Was the property within a checked bag and perhaps the fault of an airline, not TSA?
For the purposes of this Step-By-Step guide, I will be discussing damage rendered to checked baggage. In most cases, lost or damaged baggage will be the fault of the airline on which you were traveling. For these claims, it is important to contact the airline directly via their website or Customer Service phone number to begin the claim process with them.
You should only file a claim against TSA (instead of the airline) if you have a strong reason and supporting evidence to support your claim.
Making a false claim against TSA and/or using fraudulent evidence in a TSA-related claim could result in a personal fine upwards of $5,000 and possibly even land in you jail for up to 5 years!
In my case, it was perfectly clear TSA was the appropriate authority to which I should submit my claim because the evidence pointed to negligence from a TSA employee, NOT an airline employee.
If / when you decide that making a claim against TSA is appropriate, you have 2 years from the date of incident to make your claim, but don't be a slacker! Act quickly while you still have the evidence you need to make a claim!
Step 2: Gather Information and Evidence for Your Claim
Per the Transportation Security Administration's claims website:
"Provide as much detail as possible including receipts, appraisals and flight information to avoid delays [in processing your claim]."
Here is a list the data I needed in my claim for damages made to my checked baggage:
- Personal Contact Information (Name, Address, Phone Number, Email, Marital Status, Birth Date)
- Date of Incident
- Time of Incident
- Travel Itinerary Information (Airline Names, Flight Numbers, Flight Times)
- Description of Damaged Item
- Value of Damaged Item (Include original purchase receipt or appraisal if at all possible!)
- Description of the Damage
- Cost of Replacing / Repairing Damaged Item (Research it! Provide Quotes!)
- Checked Baggage Tag Number / Tracking Sticker Used By Airlines
- Witness / Travel Companion Information
- "Basis of Claim" (More Info Provided Step 3!)
Here is a list of the photographic evidence I used for my claim:
- Photo of Baggage Tag Number
- Photo of Damages to Property
- Photo to the Item's Packaging / Bag Used to Transport Item (including TSA inspection notices)
Step 3: Writing Your Claim
Download a copy of the PDF titled "Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Claims Management Branch Tort Claim Package".
At the time of this article, it could be found HERE on the TSA Claims webpage.
Using the information you gathered above, filling out the form should be painless and easy. Simply insert your information into the appropriate boxes.
When you've finished with the easy portions, take some serious time to address the following sections:
PAGE 1, SECTION 8. -- BASIS OF CLAIM
PAGE 2, SECTION 25. -- Why do you believe that TSA was Responsible?
These sections are probably the most important determining factor on whether your claim will be accepted or denied. It's important that you include concise and clear descriptions for both! Use facts, not emotions when writing. Describe, do not rant. You are probably upset about the damages, but the bureaucrat reading this form doesn't care. Think of this as a court case. You are your own lawyer so be level-headed and stick to writing as objectively as possible.
In the BASIS OF CLAIM, describe exactly what happened. Describe when you last inspected your property before travel. Mention who else (if anyone) also came in contact with the property. Indicate how you packaged your item for travel. Include when and where your property came in contact with TSA employees. Indicate when you first noticed your property was damaged. (You can describe HOW it was damaged in a different section.) Describe what steps, if any, you took to contact the airlines about the problem. When filling this form out on the computer, this section is restricted to 1,100 characters including spaces!
Here is a small sample of what I included in my claim:
"On [DATE], the night prior to travel, I packed a brand new Lori Greiner Tabletop Spinning Mirrored Jewelry Safekeeper into a large suitcase. The jewelry box was removed from its original packaging and a few soft items were packed inside of it. At this time the jewelry box appeared to be in factory condition; the blue tape across the mirrors was not removed. The jewelry box was then reinserted into its ORIGINAL packaging (a cardboard box with custom-fitted Styrofoam inserts). I packed three more boxes around the jewelry box’s packaging so that its cardboard box would not jostle during transport. I added another layer of Styrofoam on top (see photo). On [DATE] I checked my bag with [AIRLINE] at the [CITY] Airport. On [DATE], I unpacked my bag at home. Upon opening the bag, everything appeared to be intact. The exterior packaging showed no sign of jostling, denting, or damage; however, the jewelry box itself had a crack in the mirror which was not there when it was packed. I found TSA Notice of Baggage Inspection Forms both OUTSIDE and INSIDE the jewelry box (see photos)."
Your BASIS OF CLAIM will be stronger if you can support it with photos. Here are a few of the photos I included in my claim. (I was fortunate I noticed the problem immediately after unpacking and was able to photograph how my item was packaged in the checked bag!)
In SECTION 25, you are asked to answer the question, "Why do you believe that TSA was Responsible?" In this section you are allowed (at last!) to give your own opinion concerning the incident. Try to remain civil in your accusations, but it is appropriate to finally reveal your opinion on how you think someone at TSA really screwed you over.
Here is what I wrote for this section:
"As per my BASIS OF CLAIM description, the jewelry box’s mirror was undamaged at the time of packing. Upon unpacking the checked bag, there was no sign of baggage jostling or “rough handling” of the bag’s contents as everything including the layer of Styrofoam was still in place. Inside the cardboard box, however, the jewelry box was somehow damaged. A TSA Notice of Baggage Inspection Form was INSIDE the jewelry box, indicating that the item had been removed from its original packaging and handled by TSA. It my belief that during the TSA inspection, something hit or bumped the jewelry box’s exterior mirror, resulting in the half-moon crack on the mirror’s surface."
Step 4: Send Your Claim and Get Ready to Wait
There are 3 methods to deliver your completed Tort Claim Package to the TSA's Claims Management Office. Your choices are:
Please check the TSA's website or look at the bottom of the PDF Tort Claim Package to find the most updated addresses and fax numbers for your claim!
At the time I made my claim, the E-MAIL option was not available and there was a longer wait for snail mail so I went to my local library and used their fax machine to send in my paperwork. Today, email will certainly be the fastest way to process these claims. Nevertheless, prepare for a wait! It can take up to 6 months to complete the claim process! Once you've received a status claim number in the mail, you can track your claim's process by clicking the "Check Claim Status" on TSA's website.
For me, the long process was worth the wait. After several months of patiently waiting, I received this letter in the mail, indicating my claim would be made in full.
Step 5: Getting Your Payment
The Last Step:
At the time I made my claim, there was ONE ADDITIONAL STEP to the claims process. I had to sign a letter saying that I wished to collect my reimbursement funds and indicate how I wanted the funds to be delivered. If I had not responded, I would not have received my reimbursement!
Although TSA has recently updated its claims process, I am fairly certain this last step still applies. You will be required to provide the TSA with information regarding how you wish to be paid. Thus, it's important to pay close attention to any follow-up information you receive from TSA and make sure to respond in a timely manner so that your efforts do not go to waste!
I hope you found this helpful! Have a question? Write me in the comments below and I will try my best to help! Good luck and safe flying from your favorite flight attendant, Jenn Grahams.
Photo Credit - Adrian Snood
I noticed him right away. He sat in an airport wheelchair, the overly wide kind with my airline’s logo stamped on the back. He was hunched over, the shoulder blades beneath his shirt pushed high into the air like a kid portraying Quasimodo in a school play, but his “costume” of neon orange sunglasses and a lopsided beanie hat made him look less like the hunchback bellringer and more like a certified beach bum.
“Punk,” I thought, as I crossed the airport lobby, disgusted. A thousand people were crisscrossing the area, scurrying and panicked, getting checked in for their flights out of Los Angeles. Most didn’t notice him, but I did. Even though I wasn’t in flight attendant uniform, just being in the LAX airport awoke my instinctive need to plaster a smile on my face while simultaneously putting my brain on high alert, looking for suspicious activity. That is my job after all and despite being on vacation, I couldn’t just set aside my training and NOT notice this punk kid sitting in that wheelchair, pathetically pretending to be an old man just so he could have a comfy seat next to the one and only wall outlet in the lobby! I couldn’t help but peer closer and see his fingers poking away at the cell phone tucked between his legs.
Part of me could empathize with him. There’s never enough seating in airports. I too was hoping to sit down and the airport lobby was like a barren desert when it came to seating. Fortunately, the hubby and I found a place to rest; a ledge near the escalator that led upstairs to security. At its base was a young lady, probably only in her early twenties. She stood at her full-height, chin held high, and eyes fierce as she demanded the tickets of everyone who approached her.
“The Gate Keeper,” I observed. A very young woman, entrusted with much authority. I didn’t envy her position. A minimum wage job, probably. A job with plenty of confrontation, certainly. As the Gate Keeper, she was in charge of turning away passengers who had oversized bags. She was in charge of telling them to “make it fit in the bag sizer” or go back to the ticket counter and pay hundreds of dollars.
“She’s just a kid, really,” I decided, feeling that early twenties still warranted a “kid” title. Behind the bag sizer I saw a fabric sling purse, something I would have owned back in high school. It was colorful and bright and probably what the Gate Keeper would wear after work. I could just imagine it. She would sling the cute purse with its stripped blue and white print over her left shoulder and trot down a California beach with her friends, looking like a completely different person once she had changed out of her black slacks and hideously maroon airport vest. She would be smiling and happy and certainly not resemble the type of person who could stop you from going up an escalator.
I tried not to stare too long, but I found it fascinating to watch her and think about her life, to imagine me being one of her friends and how we would hang out at the beach together later. It was probably during one of these musings that the punk came over. I glanced at him warily. He was just a few feet away from me now, dragging behind him a rollaboard suitcase as if it were Linus’s filthy blue blanket.
“What are you up to?” I wondered silently. “Trying to find a way to sneak past this girl? Trying to find a way to get up the escalator without her knowing?”
It was strange. He was just standing by the bag sizer and looking at her. Waiting.
“Oh, no. Please don’t make a run for it when her back’s turned.” I groaned inwardly. I didn’t want to get involved, but it was too late now that I was conscious of the pending situation. What would I do if he tried to sneak past her? As an airline employee, heck, just as a concerned citizen, I felt obligated to stop this guy.
I tried to shake off my paranoia, but then during a break in the passenger traffic, the Gate Keeper turned her back. In two giant steps, which to me were the size of football fields, she walked away from her post even and then to my horror, turned her gaze around the corner and starting addressing another airport employee! That’s when the punk moved. I caught my breath. He stepped forward and completely surprised me. Instead of making a run for it, he stepped forward and then simply bent down, picked up his rolling bag, hugged it to his chest like a teddy bear, and walked away.
“That’s right. Keep walking,” I growled at him, narrowing my gaze and feeling quite certain that somehow my powerful mind had deterred the punk from doing something terrible. Of course, after ten minutes had passed without incident, the punk now completely out of sight, my earlier judgement seemed silly. I had been completely overacting. In fact, I ought to feel a bit sorry for the guy. Here I was, calling him a punk and completely judging his appearance because –
“My bag!” I looked up. The Gate Keeper was looking straight at me, the fierceness from her eyes replaced by a wide-eyed look of distraught.
“Did you see my bag?” the Gate Keeper asked me and for a moment, I was completely thrown off guard. I had been watching her from a distance almost as if she were on a television screen and so, for a brief second, I had forgotten she could see me too.
“Your bag…” I repeated, as the invisible wall between us faded. Then, it all became clear. The bag, her cute fabric sling purse that had been discretely hidden behind the bag sizer, was gone.
The girl lost her wallet, a phone, and car keys. She was devastated. We talked with the police. We rattled off the details as if we had rehearsed it, like actors in a skit.
“Probably late twenties. He was wearing, um..”
“Neon colored sunglasses!”
“Yes! That’s right. They were orange.”
“Bright orange! Neon! And he was sitting in a wheelchair earlier…”
“Yes! The ladies over there had to kick him out of it. He was a real jerk about it.”
We had paid attention. We had done our jobs. We had both noticed the most suspicious person in that airport lobby, but in the end, he got away with it.
This time, I failed. Next time, I won’t dismiss my instincts.
The type of crime I witnessed is known as Slider-Theft. Learn more HERE.
Stay safe out there!
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Cell phones, laptops, tablets, music players, and eReaders are quite commonplace in the United States and they are items which make flying more enjoyable! Thanks to the FAA’s new regulation passed in October 2013, many (but not all) of these electronic devices are now approved for use during ALL phases of flight, giving passengers more time to play games, watch movies, or work on their devices. As a rough estimate, I would guess that over 60% of the passengers on the domestic flights I work within the United States I see using some type of electronic device during flight. If you are one of those Candy Crush players, web surfers, or ebook readers, I would recommend considering the danger that flying poses to your personal property. Unfortunately, flying poses some risk to your personal electronic devices, a fact which most passengers never even consider! As a flight attendant, I’ve seen and heard it all so let me share some insight into the world of flying with electronics. Listed below are my top five horror stories concerning electronic devices being stolen or damaged during airline travel.
#5 The Seatback Crusher
Leg room is getting smaller and smaller on commercial flights. When the person in front of you leans their seat back fully, you almost feel it's polite to make a formal introduction! (“Hello. My name is Jenn and you’ll be resting your head in my lap on this flight!”)
A passenger told me how the lack of clearance between seats directly resulted in the death of his laptop. My frequent flier friend was going about his usual day, pulling out his laptop after 10,0000 feet and preparing to get some work done. He pulled down his tray table, moved his laptop to the tray table's back edge, and began typing up an important email. Moments later, he was taken by complete surprise as the person in front of him forcefully dropped his seat into the most reclined position. SNAP! The screen of the laptop caught under the seatback and literally snapped in half as the passenger’s chair came flying backwards.
“That’s horrible!” I gasped, as the man recounted this story to me. “What could you do? Did you confront the person in front of you?”
The business traveler said his laptop was completely broken. There was no way to fix it and because it was an innocent mistake of the person sitting in front of him, there was no way for him to collect any sort of compensation for the broken device.
Lesson: Be cautious of placing your laptop on the tray table’s back edge. Your computer could get crushed!
#4 Liquid Drop Zone
On your next long flight to L.A., you might hope to get an aisle seat. That gives you a little more legroom and a chance to get up without inconveniencing others, right? Well, little did you know that the aisle seat comes at a cost. The aisle seat puts you, the passenger, directly inside the Liquid Drop Zone.
Sadly, this next story comes from personal experience. I was working in Main Cabin. I remember feeling rushed. Perhaps we were running late with our service or maybe the captain had reported choppy weather on the horizon. For whatever reason, my co-worker and I were working as quickly as possible to finish our drink service. I served a woman tea with milk and sugar. For the milk, we use a small carton, the individual serving size you might have received on a lunch tray in elementary school. I found out a second later that when dumped, that little individual serving size of milk looks like a tidal wave. As soon as I set the milk back down on the cart, my co-worker unknowingly bumped the carton with his hand as he reached for something and I watched in shocked silence as the milk carton plummeted upside down and flopped down onto the keyboard of a man’s laptop. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my career.
I wish I could say that flight attendants accidentally spilling liquids was as infrequent as a solar eclipse, but unfortunately, I’ve witnessed other spills and often, those happen on top of the aisle seat passenger’s body or property.
Lesson: Consider hiding your electronic devices under the tray table while flight attendants pass out drinks! We’re kinda clumsy sometimes.
#3 - Liquid Drop Zone, Part 2
Flight attendants are not the only ones guilty of accidentally spilling. Unfortunately, travelers also need to be wary of their seatmates! The person sitting next to you might just turn out to be a complete klutz! On more than one occasion when answering a call light, I have arrived on the scene to find a very upset passenger pulling his or her tablet or cell phone out of a pool of Diet Coke that was spilled by someone else.
Of course, extra precaution is needed with children. Adorable and cute, yes, but coordinated enough to last a three hour flight without spilling? Not usually. Add a little turbulence to the mix and something is bound to go flying!
Lesson: Keep an eye on your neighbor’s drink and be prepared to react quickly if someone’s coffee does tip over.
#2 - Thieves In Flight Keep an eye on your cell phone...
Airline travel is open to everyone, including soul-less jerks who have no moral compass. Yes, sadly, many expensive pieces of technology get stolen during flights. I have met numerous flight attendants who had their phones or tablets stolen because a passenger went rifling through their purse or bag when it was left unattended in the back galley or even in an overhead bin. I have also heard of a passenger getting up to use the lavatory and coming back to find their headphones or iPod missing. Obviously, the flight crew will do their best to help a passenger if the person suspects their item was stolen during the flight, but this can sometimes be difficult.
A fellow co-worker and her crew worked hard to retrieve a stolen item. Frankly, I am a little surprised this story didn’t make the news! A passenger seated in the last row of First Class reported that he couldn’t find his new laptop. Believing it had slid under his seat during take-off, he and the flight attendants looked everywhere, but the missing laptop was no where to be found! A little later, a passenger who sat in the first row of Main Cabin, approached my flight attendant friend in the back galley. The passenger reported that he saw the woman sitting next to him bend down after take-off, grab something from under the First Class seat, and shove it into her oversized bag-purse.
The flight attendants questioned the woman and asked if she had found the missing laptop. She held her purse firmly in her lap and said no. The flight attendants asked if it was possible to check her purse to make sure the tablet “hadn’t accidentally slid into the bag during take-off”. The woman clutched her purse more firmly and said no, that would not be possible. After discussing the situation with the Captain, it was decided that authorities would meet the plane upon landing and question the suspected woman. Shortly before landing, the flight attendants explained to the woman what was going to happen and that she would need to remain seated so the police could talk with her upon arrival. As the flight attendant left to take her jumpseat, the woman headed straight to the bathroom, bringing her purse with her. As soon as she exited the lavatory, another flight attendant went inside, checked the trash can, and found the laptop buried inside under a mound of paper towels. Crazy, right? The woman should have been in the World’s Dumbest Criminals book.
Lesson: While this lady wasn’t too clever in her attempted robbery, beware of your electronics because a more clever thief might be sitting near you.
#1 - Dip in the Blue Lagoon
The number one way to totally embarrass yourself and completely wreck your electronic device is to bring it to the plane’s bathroom. That’s right. Some passengers bring their cell phones to the toilet and sometimes they accidentally drop their precious electronic devices right into the murky blue belly of the crapper. Not only will your phone be completely GROSS after this, it may be impossible to retrieve. If this happens during flight, you can count on the crew giving you dirty looks and possibly making an in-flight announcement to explain WHY over one-hundred or more passengers are going to be stuck using one less bathroom for the rest of the flight!
I heard a story of how one gal dropped her cell into the toilet and how she then had the audacity to ask the flight attendant to retrieve it for her. Guess what? That’s not part of our job description! (The flight attendant made sure to inform her of this.) If you drop your new iPhone 6 into the pit, we’ll give you a pair of gloves and you are welcome to go after it yourself, but we're not sticking our hands into sewage and you probably should just consider buying a new mobile.
Lesson: When it comes to bringing your electronics in the lavatory ...umm, don’t. Please, that is so gross.
Have you or someone you know had an electronic device stolen or damaged while in-flight? Have some extra tips on how to protect your property while flying? Write me in the comments below!Join my newsletter for more flight attendant stories! :)
Jenn at Crew Member Self Defense Training
Sometimes it’s hard to feel my work is important.
I was walking through the aisle picking up trash when it happened. The middle-aged man with eyes completely glued to the movie on his iPad floated his hand in a trance-like motion toward the outstretched garbage bag I held firmly stretched between my two hands. Instead of dropping the half-full cup of orange juice into the trash bag, the distracted man planted it upside down against my thigh and a second later I felt the sticky, sweet juice dribble down my right leg and pool into my right shoe, thus ending the unwanted leg-bath of Vitamin C. The fact that it took the man a five full seconds to pry his eyes away from his movie and then mutter a barely-intelligible apology before turning away again was infuriating, making me want to smack the silly piece of technology right of his tray table and give a mother-worthy reprimand of, Look at me when you say you’re sorry, young man!.
It’s hard to be taken seriously when people think you’re just a sky waitress. Some people seem to think that once I’ve served them a Diet Coke, I’ve fulfilled my role on the flight. My job is finished, right? The times have changed and long gone is the era of the stewardess. Today, being a flight attendant is all about safety. We are paid to be there in case something bad happens. We are not paid to cater to the every whim of passengers. Nope. We are there for safety first and if possible, comfort second. We are trained to take charge during medical emergencies, evacuations, and other life-threatening scenarios. Fortunately, such situations are quite rare and so most of what we train for is never used. In two years, I’ve only had one serious medical scare and it was resolved without needing to divert the flight. Nevertheless, emergencies do happen and they have happened to co-workers I know.
Of course, when it comes to keeping people safe, the scariest risk is terrorism. When I signed up to be a flight attendant, I signed up to be the last line of defense between lunatics and the flight deck door. It’s a huge responsibility and I think about it every day. Here in the United States, we will never allow something like 9/11 happen again. Period. When I signed up for my job, I knew I had signed up to put up a fight and sacrifice myself for others should that type of situation arise. Perhaps not all flight attendants take their duties seriously, but I do. If the time should come, I will be ready to save lives and if necessary, put the lives of my passengers ahead of my own – including the life of Mr. Orange Juice Dropper.
It’s easy to see the bad and not the good of airline travel. This concept applies to passengers as well. Media centers itself around the poor behavior of fliers on websites such as Passenger Shaming. Fortunately, there’s another side to the flying public and those are the untold stories of fascinating passengers I meet every day. Every few months, I’d like to tell you about some of the amazing people I’ve met. Here are three of their stories.
The Woman with An Accent
I’m working in the Main Cabin and the woman at the bulkhead has an intriguing accent when she orders her drink.
“Diet Coke, please.”
Three little words, but that’s all I need to hear to guess she’s from somewhere in Eastern Europe. I put my money on Poland. I believe you can tell a lot more about a person by their accent than by their physical appearance. I’ve spent several years training my ears to pick up the subtle cues that identify a person’s nationality.
When the woman comes back to use the lavatory, she has to wait in line which gives me the perfect opportunity to make small talk. We exchange a few more words and her accent taunts me again so I finally say, “You have a beautiful accent. Do you mind me asking where you’re from?”
She smiles a bit sheepishly. “Originally Ukraine, but now I’m a psychology major at (college) here in the United States.”
I give myself a pat on the back for being pretty close with my guess, but then my face scrunches up in worry. It’s July 2014 and there is a war going on in Ukraine. The death toll has been increasing. A commercial airliner headed to Amsterdam was recently shot down by rebels in Ukraine, killing 298 souls on board.
“Oh! Ukraine,” I say with seriousness. “Do you still have family back home? Are they okay?”
Her eyes go big for a second as she nods. “Yes, but they are okay now. We live in the city and one night, terrible violence broke out between the fighters. It was horrible for them. There were guns firing and explosions. My family just ran. They took all the possessions they could in just a few backpacks and fled across the border to Russia.”
“Is your family originally Russian? Do they support the rebel troops?”
“Oh, no!” she replies immediately. “No, my family is from Ukraine. I don’t know anyone who supports the rebels. There are lots of people in our area who are from Russia, sure. Still, I don’t know anyone, none of our neighbors, who want Ukraine to be part of Russia. We see Ukraine as independent.”
It’s hard for me to imagine living in such an unstable country plagued by civil war. I am surprised and fascinated that the girl’s family has run to hide in the country which is attacking them, but survival, not politics, was clearly the most important thing for them. I remind myself to say a prayer for the girl’s family and for all the people in Ukraine who are impacted by this on-going violence.
A young-looking Caucasian man in his mid-thirties was one of the first people to board our flight. He came hobbling on the plane with crutches. A giant, black boot encased his leg from knee to foot.
The flight attendant next to me smiled as he approached us and said, “It was sure sweet of you to jump out of that burning building and save all those puppies! Am I right?” she grins, nodding at his leg.
The man laughed. “Actually the story is just about as fantastic!” He continued to maneuver slowly onto the plane as he explained, “My friend and I were driving and got t-boned by a kid driving sixty miles an hour. Sixty miles an hour! I was in the passenger seat and the car was totally wrecked, but I came out with just this; a broken leg. That’s it. Otherwise, not a scratch on me!”
“Wow,” I breathed, shaking my head in wonder.
“God had something planned for you, my friend,” my co-worker said.
“Well, in fact...” the man grunted while pausing to adjust his crutches.
Before he finished, I already heard the three words in my head.
“...I’m a pastor.”
A tiny jolt shocked my heart as my prediction came to life.
“How did I know he was going to say that?” I silently asked myself. The man’s story reminds me of a similar near-miss traffic accident in my own life. It’s a story that deserves its own telling, but to abbreviate, I have always believed that the accident was avoided because the man in my vehicle was meant to serve God’s mission later in life.
During the flight, the pastor showed us pictures of the accident. The cell phone picts show the tangled wreckage of a white van. The metal is twisted and deformed around the spot where the pastor was sitting.
“So, the driver and I went to this young man’s house and let me tell you, he had nothing. He lived with his mother and they were just really having a tough time and God gave us an amazing opportunity to speak with these people and get to know them. We agreed to not press any charges and in fact, we were able to give them some money back from the insurance settlement. The best part though – the best part – was that we got to tell them about Jesus and bring them to the Lord.”
Don't Mess with Mama
The New York City to Los Angeles flight is usually over six and a half hours long. In nearly the same amount of time, you could cross the Atlantic and get to London. Understandably, passengers tend to get a little cranky during this long haul. One of the most upset passengers I ever met was a woman I’ll call Kathy. This mom was traveling in the Main Cabin with four daughters who ranged in ages from nine to seventeen. Kathy went through an emotional rollercoaster when she discovered that our transcontinental flights do not include meals. We offer a limited amount of food for sale products and that’s it. First, Kathy was unbelieving.
“Don’t you have free peanuts? Maybe some pretzels?” she pressed.
“No, ma’am. I’m sorry, but we just have food for sale products and free drinks.”
Then, she became aghast. After a minute of babbling her confusion and disapproval, her attitude changed again and she became outright nasty. She demanded to be served a meal. Her voice was loud enough to capture the attention of people sitting five or six rows ahead of her. I tried my best to remain cordial and calmly explain that her demand was impossible to fulfill as there were no meals for Main Cabin catered on the plane. My co-worker on the other end of the cart, a hardened chick from New York City, finally cut in after a few minutes and said, “Listen, ma’am. Like she said, we don’t have any meals on this flight. If you see something you wanna order off the menu, let us know.” Then, she hit the release pedal on the cart and urged me to follow her backwards a few rows away from the irate woman.
At the end of our service, Kathy came back to the galley. As I recognized the woman, my back stiffened and I prepared myself for another verbal assault. Surprisingly though, Kathy stood with her arms limply folded, as if hugging herself.
“I....I’m sorry that I acted so rudely to you,” she said carefully, her eyes fleeting between us. “I don’t usually make a scene. It’s just...my daughter I was worried about. The oldest one, you may have seen, is sitting at the window and she’s...she’s...”
Kathy’s face quivered and soon, there were tears squeezing out the corners of her eyes. Kathy explained that her teenage daughter was struggling with self-image and Kathy had recently discovered that the girl was anorexic. A doctor’s appointment revealed that the child was terribly underweight and wasn’t getting proper nourishment. Her starvation tactics were self-implemented all for the sake of wanting to look thinner. Kathy was trying to help her daughter get back on track to having a better self-image and eating a healthy diet.
“I just thought there was a meal and so I didn’t bring any snacks and I know it’s not your fault....”
She handed us a credit card, but my co-worker immediately waived a hand and filled Kathy’s arms with enough food products to feed a small army.
Kathy’s story stuck with me and I remember her every time I have an upset passenger. I remind myself to be patient and to speak kindly because there's no telling what that person is going through.