Lessons on Gratitude Learned on a Long Plane Flight

October 31st, 2012 by Laura Longley

To get from Seattle to Edinburgh I had to take two plane flights. The first was from Seattle to Amsterdam. This flight is about ten hours long. When I checked in online prior to leaving for the airport, I was given an opportunity to upgrade to a better economy class seat, one with more legroom and a seat that reclined further back. The cost was $119. I asked myself if the extra comfort was worth the money for me, and decided it wasn’t.

I had been on this same flight about six months earlier when I took a trip to The Netherlands with my mother. The flight was full that time, and I expected it to be the same for this trip. But it wasn’t; the plane was about half full.

Gratitude and Appreciation

I had a window seat, so when it became apparent that no one else was getting on the plane, my seat mate in the aisle seat moved across the aisle to an empty seat so we each could have an empty seat next to us.

Given that this was the beginning of what I consider to be a spiritual journey for me, I noticed this gift I had been given, and was grateful for it. I even wrote about it in my journal, which I had brought in my carry-on bag.

I noticed that I had been given an opportunity to pay for a more comfortable situation and had declined it. I wasn’t focused on how long the journey would be, or how uncomfortable I might be. I just accepted that having perhaps a little discomfort was part of the price of admission for this trip.

I believe that because I wasn’t feeling negative about the long plane flight, I left myself open to receive the gift of some extra space. I was grateful, and said thank you for that gift.

Entitlement and Selfishness

Then, about six hours into the flight, I was asked to move my things from the empty aisle seat so someone else could come and sit there because their video wasn’t working and they wanted to watch a movie. It didn’t even take me a minute to forget the gratitude of the unexpected gift, and start feeling entitled to that extra space, and grumpy that I had to give it up.

After huffing about and feeling grumpy for a few minutes, I remembered. I was not entitled to that extra seat; I had been fortunate enough to have it be empty for about two-thirds of the flight. How selfish of me to be upset that someone else wanted to watch a movie. I had been watching movies during much of the flight myself. Why should I deny someone else that same thing?

The truth was that they had paid for the right to watch movies by buying their ticket. I had not paid for the right to extra space. I had been given that opportunity and had turned it down. How selfish and entitled of me!

As soon as I realized this, I immediately gave thanks again for having the empty seat for most of the flight.

What a good reminder of how easy it is to focus on what we don’t have, and forget what we do have.


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