To the Flight Attendant of Air New Zealand who changed my life
How 19year old me learned about serendipity
One of my favorite words in the English language is "Serendipity". It means to observe or to experience something new and unexpected ... or simply: a lucky coincidence.
Serendipity can be anything from discovering America by chance in 1492 to finding 10bucks in your old pants. What I love so much about it is that these situations have the potential to turn around your day or even sway the course of your life. I have this one story especially, where it felt like I was part of a moment like that and I remember it so vividly because I had the worst day. Let me explain:
I was a 19-year-old german boy and I was backpacking Australia and New Zealand
I love the Australian mentality. When I first heard about how helpful they were I didn't quite believe it. I actually put it to the test. They said, that you cannot stand in the middle of Sydney for more than 7 minutes with a map without someone offering you help. It took an old lady about 3minutes to come up to me.
Strangers waiting for the bus and sitting next to you naturally asked about your day and when someone you just met offered to come by for dinner ... they actually meant it. Oh, how I loved this. I adapted quickly and started making friends for example by going for a walk and randomly helping some students carry up a fridge up to their apartment.
After six months in Australia, I booked a flight from Cairns, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand to meet an old friend to spend my last money on one month of road tripping together.
Unfortunately, I got sick just the week before and suffered from a sore throat and a migraine, and was also a little feverish. As you make decisions as a 19-year-old, I thought I could shake off the cold by going to a lousy club by myself the night before the flight. (Spoiler Alert: It didn't help!). When I went to the airport around 5 am with my huge backpack towering above my head, my small backpack on my chest, my guitar in my left hand, and my plastic bag with toast and spices in my right hand, I looked like a "Transformer" but felt like I got punched in the face.
Waiting for the counters to open to check in my luggage, I thought my head would explode and I seriously considered going back to the hostel and simply going back to sleep. On the other hand, I had spent a great amount of money on that flight and I was basically broke beside the money I had planned for a road trip in New Zealand ... so there was no way back for me.
I wasn't going to waste the money I had earned by selling my soul to an Asian Restaurant in Byron Bay for 70-80hrs/week for several months. One of the toughest but also most influential experiences of my life. (This is by the way where I once cooked To-Go dinner for Chris Hemsworth and his wife but that's another story.)
One set-back is bad luck, two set-backs is a pattern
Finally, the airport slowly came alive and I was ready to get a coffee and nap at my gate. This was until the lady behind the counter wanted me to pay for my luggage. I was sure I had checked the box on the website for "luggage included" but the computer said: "No you didn't". I was like: "Alright how much can it be?!" She said: "It's 100$". Ouch. An amount that equaled up to five nights in a 20-bed dorm room + cornflakes in the morning in my world. Once again, I had no choice.
It hurt but I took out my credit card. "I'm sorry but your card was declined.", the lady said. Great. We tried all my cards until I figured that I had reached my weekly limit booking the flights there and back again (pun intended). I tried to call my bank in Germany at what was nighttime in Europe but my prepaid SIM didn't have enough money on it.
The airport was at full effect now and other passengers had arrived and moved towards security check already. I had successfully ignored a voice in the back of my head until that point. A voice that told me: "You wasted all that money because you were too incompetent to book a flight. Now what?"
At that point, I think, pity kicked in and the lady offered me to step behind the counter and to follow her to the backstage area of the airport (or whatever it's called). I followed her through a secret tunnel system, through the holy halls of air travel where pilots and Christmas Elves live until we finally arrived in a tiny room with a desk and a phone on it. I felt like in a movie but at least I could call my bank.
Luckily, my bank had a 24/7 service and they advanced my weekly limit surprisingly fast within 40minutes.
We did it
I paid for the luggage and ran with my smaller backpack to the security check. The line wasn't too long and I still had about 30mintes until boarding. "Excuse me, is this your backpack?". What nowadays has become a standard procedure for me because I always travel with a lot of suspicious-looking camera gear, has been quite worrying and new for me back then. They had found a knife in my backpack. My favorite Swiss army knife my father gave to me for my confirmation.
Do I have to go to jail now? How much is it per night? Is it cheaper than a hostel?
The security was actually quite nice about it but they explained to me that there was no option to store it anywhere for me but had to go to the trash bin right in front of my eyes there and now.
I was truly devastated and so mad at myself
Walking towards my gate with my sore throat and my headache I was really looking forward to sitting in my seat, eating breakfast, and maybe watching a movie.
If you know me, you know that I am almost always in a good mood UNLESS I am hungry. It is basically the only thing that can rattle my inner Zen Mode.
Those who travel often probably know what happened next.
The whole cabin smelt like omelet & coffee. A heavenly smell at the end of the tunnel ... or aisle. Finally, the flight attendant and her food cart arrived at my row. Everyone got their breakfast ... except for me. "I am sorry but it seems like you didn't book the food option on this flight."
When it rains it pours
I looked at her ... and accepted my fate. She apologized one more time but before she left I was able to inform her with my scratchy voice that my screen was the only one that didn't work. After all, a movie could keep me distracted long enough from being hungry.
The whole entertainment system had to be rebooted because of my screen and I earned myself quite a few annoyed looks from passengers who had been already 20minutes into their Rom-Com Movie. However, my screen remained black. The only entertainment I would have on this flight would be the reflection of my pale face in the dark screen in front of me.
I was out of options. At least the air I was breathing was included in my ticket.
Then it happened
Trying to pull myself together the flight attendant from earlier approached. She asked me if I would be willing to switch seats. Oh no ...
She then explained to me that there were free seats in the back with working screens. In fact, there was a whole row without any seats taken. After I sat down, she came back with a smile. In her hand: Two fresh breakfast packages. Two of the passengers didn't want their breakfast after all so she had thought of me to ask me if I was still hungry.
I don't want to push the story too far here, but you will believe me when I say that I was close to tears.
"Thank you. You have no idea what this means to me right now", I told her.
My future finally looked bright again and, oh, I felt like a king above the clouds at that very moment.
Of course, you could argue that she was just doing her job but she walked the extra mile for me when she didn't have to. To me, on a day like that, this was a moment of true serendipity.
No flight attendant ever did anything comparable for me to this day, and that's okay. But I am grateful that on this particular morning in 2013, where I felt like shit, she was there. Who knows how I would have begun my journey through New Zealand on an empty stomach and feeling sad and alone.
As a 19year old dude, backpacking another continent, you find yourself quite often at the mercy of strangers
Yes, you are free and independent however you become aware of people who choose to give without expecting anything in return.
From studying in the states to backpacking South America I have so many stories about people treating me poorly but the memories of kind humans prevail. Small gestures or situations where someone looked beyond the horizon of their own problems to give someone a hand are one of the main reasons that restore my faith in humanity.
This is now almost 10 years ago (dirty thirty is right around the corner dear 1992 kids) and this memory remains among my favorites where I feel like it happened just last week.
Every time I tell this story it teaches me to be a little bit more present in everyday life and to embrace kindness a little bit more because from my own experience a random act of kindness can go a long way.
Hi, I am Moritz Bauer, Creative Director and Filmmaker from Hamburg, Germany and I write screenplays, articles, and short fiction stories.
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