I'm pleased to report that American Airlines has regained its position in my good graces today.
I was booked to leave SFO on the 1:45 flight today. American also had a noon flight to JFK, so I went to the airport a bit early to try and get on it. I signed up for standby on the earlier plane, went to the gate, and hung out.
The 12 PM flight was extra-full. There were no seats left. Flying standby is interesting on a packed flight. You wait at the gate, watch them call the last few passengers again and again, and if they don't all show up you get a seat. Everyone was showing up. With a dozen or so people still waiting to board, they announced that overhead storage was full and that the remaining bags would be gate-checked. And still they came, filling up every available cranny of the plane.
Finally, it was down to two of us waiting, me and an older woman. A third woman ran up to the counter at 11:50 and tried to get on the flight, but she was told that the flight was booked solid. The gate attendant typed in some more stuff, a long list printed out, and she said "Mr. Trupin? Seat 25A." I had the last seat. Yeah! In your face, older woman.
As I was walking towards the gate, the other woman waiting for standby said to the attendant, "Can I pass a note onto the plane to tell my husband that I can't get on this flight?" My heart sank. I felt like I was breaking up a family, so I turned around and said, "I didn't realize you were traveling with your husband. You should take my seat." She was kind of shocked.
We went back to the check-in desk and explained that I was giving the seat up to the woman. They were kind of shocked. Everyone was all shocked and stuff. She had time to thank me profusely, then run for the plane. I turned back to the desk, and was greeted by three attendants wearing the loose-jawed, "we've never seen someone act compassionately" look. They told me that no one else would've done that. I told them that it wasn't that big a deal, really, because I was confirmed on the flight that left 90 minutes later. We joked around for a minute, and then I asked if there were any upgrades or exit rows available.
The attendant at the keyboard switched to his "we don't usually do this" look, then said, "Actually we do have an exit row seat, row 17. You'll have a lot of room." An hour later, the plane started to board. The gate clerk was working at the ticket machine. I was standing in a crowd, but he pointed at me and said "what group are you with?" I looked down, and I was in Group 6. The last people to board. He waved me forward with his index finger and sent me on with Group 1.
I walked down the aisle of the new 767, and found Row 17. If you've been on one of these planes, this is the single row, consisting of two seats, that's tucked in between business and coach. It's always either empty or the flight attendants are sitting in it. They'd given me both seats. It had a business class seat, with a footrest and a full horizontal recline. When I extended my legs fully, I could rest them on the bulkhead. The two seats had a curtain that I could pull closed, but I didn't push my luck. It was like flying in a cocoon.
During takeoff, the attendants pulled out jump seats in the aisle next to me. I told them about the whole standby story, and they treated me like I was in business class. They actually forced a sandwich on me. I said no but they gave it to me anyway in case I got hungry. The chip box contained something called a "turkey stick," which, thinking back, doesn't strike me as being anatomically correct.
The sandwich offering was ham, cheese, and bacon on a roll that crumbled as you lifted it because they put a tomato slice on the bottom of the ingredient stack. I don't know why they neglected to add the pulled pork and Canadian bacon slice, but I understand that we're having a mild pork shortage right now so I didn't press the issue.
So what have I learned today? Always beg for row 17. Always, ALWAYS treat gate staff like humans. Do things to be nice to others, even when you don't expect anything back from it. And even atheists can benefit from karma, not just guys named Earl.