Wednesday, August 11, 2010

First Class for our Fighting Force

We are a country at war. I know that this is something that is easy to forget or to push into the back of our minds, but the fact that we are at war remains. Most of us are in a position that we aren't constantly reminded of this, and we can go about our days thinking that it is somebody else's problem.

That the current conflict is far from home doesn't change that men and women are dying on behalf of ourselves and our country.

If you've traveled by air recently, the reminders that we are at war are fairly frequent from the uniformed soldiers moving about the country to the posters and PA announcements spreading the word about the USO.

Whenever I see an soldier in uniform, I get the urge to walk over to them, thank them for their service and shake their, but I never do. I usually don't have a problem walking up to someone and talking to them, but this situation is somehow different.

Suppose that I do thank someone for their service and shake their hand; then what? Anything beyond that would feel somehow shallow. They are going to war, what could I possibly say? I suppose that I could offer to buy them a beer, but then the uncomfortable conversation would just move to a different location. Don't get me wrong, I am genuinely grateful, but I just don't know how to handle the situation so I end up avoiding it.

Years of watching television commercials dictates that I handle this situation by sending over a small child bearing an ice cold Coca Cola. I see two big problems with this solution. First of all, not everyone likes Coke. There are a large number of Pepsi fans out there along with a growing number of people that don't drink soda at all. The second problem is that I don't travel with a small child. I suppose that I could borrow one, but attempting to borrow someone's child at an airport could prove somewhat problematic.

As I contemplated this problem, I stared down at my boarding pass that had unexpectedly been upgraded to first class thanks to my frequent flier status. The solution suddenly hit me; switch seats with one of the uniformed soldiers. After all, they are willing to die for our country so shouldn't they get an extra bag of peanuts, a comfy chair and a couple of free drinks?

I spoke with the gate agent to see if I could switch seats anonymously, but he said that any seat switching would have to be mutually acceptable to both passengers. The switch couldn't be an anonymous surprise, but by this time I was determined to follow through with my plan.

I approached a nearby man in uniform who was sitting by himself. After confirming that he was on my same flight, I asked him if he'd like to fly first class; oddly enough he said yes. We approached the gate agent and informed him that we wanted to switch seats. I figured that we would have needed to have new boarding passes issued, but to my surprise we were instructed to simply switch boarding passes.

I thanked the soldier for his service, shook his hand and that was it. The whole exchange lasted less than a minute, but I felt good about it all day long. I hadn't been expecting the upgrade, and it was nice to do something nice for someone that truly deserved it.

On the rare occasions that I am upgraded in the future, I plan to swap boarding passes with those in uniform whenever possible. I would like to encourage other frequent fliers to follow my lead and do likewise.

If you are considering switching your first class seat with someone in uniform, I have a couple of tips for you:

1. Always check with the gate agent in order to determine the correct procedure for swapping seats. This may vary from one airline to another, and it's best not to surprise anyone when it comes to boarding a plane.

2. Have your frequent flier card handy. When you switch boarding passes with someone, you not only get their seat, but their boarding zone as well. With your frequent flier card in hand, you can board sooner and you might even find a spot for your carry-on bags.

If you've swapped seats with a soldier before, please let me know how it went in the comments section below. If you're with me in swapping seats with those that are serving our country, please let me know that as well.

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