“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
We had just checked our suitcases for the flight home from Auckland and were heading upstairs to Security when we noticed the sign. Next to a bin for discarding non-approved carry-on items stood a large poster of a bee and containers of various sizes, all with a bold “X” marked through them. And inside my carry-on sat three jars of carefully wrapped New Zealand Manuka honey – 250 grams each, the smallest size on the prohibited list.
My heart sank as I thought of leaving behind these not-so-inexpensive gifts for our son and daughter as well as ourselves. The night before, Herb and I had even debated whether to put the honey in our checked luggage or a carry-on. Now with little time to waste, we quickly sprang into action and began inquiring about a place at the airport to mail the jars home. After three “I think you can find it down that way” comments turned up empty, we learned there was no mail service at the airport.
As a last hope, we returned to the counter where we had started and spoke with the security officer who had asked purpose-of-our-visit questions before we could check in. His name was Sean, he remembered talking with us and he couldn’t have been kinder as we told him our story.
“Oh, that happens a lot here,” he said with a laugh. “Hang on a minute, and we’ll get one of your checked bags so you can transfer the honey.”
He will get one of our bags that had already been checked?
We couldn’t believe what he had just said. An instant later, a gentleman from United Airlines appeared and asked us what color our bags were. “Black,” we replied sheepishly, wondering how he would ever find one of ours among all the similar-looking luggage. But in what seemed to take less than a minute, he returned with bag in hand. As I nestled the jars into their new travel accommodations, Sean pointed to another station nearby. “Just take your bag to the oversized luggage check-in, and they’ll get it on the plane.”
We thanked Sean and told him we’d like to write a note of appreciation to United. “Oh, no need,” he said, explaining that he worked for the security company, not the airline. “I’m just doing my job. Happy to help.”
Herb and I couldn’t stop smiling as we made our way back to Security and the bee-spangled poster where our little adventure had begun. In the scope of the trip and life itself, it was truly that – little – but it’s those little things that can make a difference in how we feel about a place. A stranger’s kind gesture can make us think beyond the moment and even draw grand conclusions – The people in New Zealand are so friendly! – leaving a lasting impression about a place we may never have the chance to visit again.
I’m fairly certain that Sean had no idea how much he impacted us that day. Or how the Manuka honey story wove itself into a family’s travel lore. Or how the kindness of a stranger turned a potential disappointment at the end of a trip into a great memory, making a couple of weary American travelers grateful they had met him.